Members of the European Parliament have voted to keep secret an audit report the could reveal evidence of widespread abuse of staff wage allowances.
The document exposes the huge end-of-year bonuses paid to those working for MEPs, allowances spent by members who claimed not to employ anyone and allowances paid to companies or individuals closely linked to an MEP.
It also mentions payments to relatives who do not appear to be qualified to act as official employees of MEPs, who each receive almost £160,000 a year to spend on staff.
But in a series of votes in Strasbourg yesterday, members not only refused to allow the release of the report but also rejected calls from the Ombudsman for the publication of the names of 407 MEPs who are enrolled in a voluntary pension fund subsidised by the taxpayer.
The parliament pays more than €25,000 (£20,000) a year into the pension funds of the subscribing MEPs, after which they are required to contribute a further €13,860 (£11,100). The Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies said that without transparency there was no way of checking suspicions that some members were using other parliamentary allowances to cover their contribution, which he said amounted to "embezzlement".
Members did, however, agree to ban themselves from employing close relatives at taxpayers' expense. The vote has no legal force but will be considered in discussions on updating regulations covering payments.
Mr Davies, who is calling for the release of the audit report, said: "These votes bring discredit and dishonour upon the entire parliament. Taxpayers could be forgiven for believing there are more honest people to be found in prison than sit in the European Parliament.
"Far from cleaning up their act, a majority of MEPs seem intent on allowing greed and self-interest to triumph over the proper financial management of public money.
"The MEPs who voted today to keep their citizens in the dark about the way taxpayers' money is used should face a brouhaha in their own countries."