BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ European Union investigators said Tuesday that repeated lapses in the organization's fiscal controls have led to losses of billions of dollars through fraud and waste.

In its annual report, the EU's Court of Auditors estimated 5 percent of the EU's $97 billion budget, about $5 billion dollars, was lost due to errors and irregularities.

``Enormous amounts of money are lost,'' said Bernhard Friedmann, president of the court.

A statement from the court said the level of errors affecting payments by the EU's executive body, the European Commission, ``is too high for the Court to provide assurance about their legality and regularity.''

Following a spate of fraud allegations against the EU Commission, EU President Jacques Santer last month promised to create an independent anti-fraud unit.

The report also criticized sloppy handling of programs to prevent the spread of ``mad cow'' disease. A total of $2.46 billion was spent to cut EU beef production, one-fourth of it in Britain, where the disease caused a major health scare.