Belgian prosecutor investigates Qatar for European Parliament corruption scheme
An anti-corruption operation related to Qatar, carried out by the Belgian police in the European Parliament (EP), provoked strong reactions in Brussels on Saturday, 10 December. NGOs and EU officials are calling for an urgent debate to improve ethics rules in the EU institution.
Due to the corruption scandal, Green and Social Democrat MEPs will oppose visa liberalization negotiations for Qataris in the EU on Monday. French MEP Manon Aubry (radical left) denounced this Saturday "the aggressive lobbying of Qatar" and demanded a debate on the subject next week in Strasbourg, where the EP meets in plenary session.
Today, the hearings continue in Brussels, according to a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor's office. The investigation by Belgian judge Michel Claise targets facts of organized "corruption" and "money laundering", according to the prosecution.
Five people were arrested Friday in Brussels after at least 16 searches due to an investigation relating to money payments by a "Gulf country" to influence the decisions of MEPs. The Belgian federal prosecutor's office did not name the country, but a judicial source confirmed to the Belgian media Le Soir and Knack that the country in question is Qatar. The affair broke out in the middle of the 2022 World Cup.
A possible placement in pre-trial detention by the investigating judge must be decided until Sunday evening (within 48 hours after the arrest) concerning Greek MEP Eva Kaili.
"This is not an isolated incident," said the NGO Transparency International to AFP. "For several decades, the Parliament has allowed a culture of impunity to develop (...) and a total absence of independent ethical control," the NGO added.
Bags of banknotes
The Belgian newspaper L'Echo wrote that "several bags full of banknotes" were discovered at the Brussels home of Kaili, which the police decided to search after having surprised the father of the Greek MEP in possession of a large amount of cash in "a suitcase". Kaili is a 44-year-old former TV presenter who has also the title of Vice-President of the European Parliament like 13 other elected officials.
Kaili has been now ousted from the Greek Socialist Party (Pasok-Kinal), which would also want her to give up her seat in the European Parliament. The Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the European assembly announced its suspension "with immediate effect".
AFP reports that at least three suspects arrested on Friday are Italians or of Italian origin: the former socialist MEP Pier-Antonio Panzeri, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Luca Visentini, as well as Francesco Giorgi, a parliamentary assistant from the S&D group, companion of Kaili.
According to Italian news agencies, besides five arrests in Belgium, there were also two in Italy. Kaili went to Qatar in early November where she welcomed the reforms of the emirate in this sector in the presence of the Qatari Minister of Labour.
"Qatar is a leader in terms of labour rights," the Greek said on November 22 at the European Parliament, causing a stir.
A house search also took place on Friday evening in the office of an assistant of the Belgian MEP Marie Arena (PS). Arena confirmed it to the Belga News Agency. The house search is part of the investigation by the Belgian federal prosecutor's office. The assistant is Italian and her office is sealed until Monday morning.
Arena's assistant was recruited about a year ago to work on cases involving Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She previously worked for the NGO Fight Impunity. Speaking about the investigation by the Belgian federal prosecutor's office, Arena said she "is in favour of transparency".
Another office was also sealed in the European Parliament, namely that of an ex-assistant of Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella (PS). This assistant worked for several years with former Italian MP Pier Antonio Panzeri (S&D), founder and president of the NGO Fight Impunity. According to Le Soir, it is a person associated with the S&D group and the partner of Kaili. Tarabella's office was not searched, a Tarabella spokesman said.
Vice-President of the European Parliament Eva Kaili arrested amid Brussels corruption probe ©BELGA PHOTO