EU parliament vice-president sacked on suspicion of Qatar buying influence

EU parliament vice-president sacked on suspicion of Qatar buying influence
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BRUSSELS – A vice-president of the parliament of the European Union was suspended by the party group on Friday after he was arrested by Belgian police, who carried out multiple raids in connection with an investigation by a Gulf country on suspicion of trading influence in the EU parliament.

While prosecutors did not name the country under investigation, a legal source close to the case confirmed it was Qatar, according to AFP Belgian media.

The centre-left group of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament said it had “immediately decided to suspend MEP Eva Kaili’s membership of the S&D Group in response to ongoing investigations”.

Kaili, a 44-year-old former Greek TV newscaster, was also suspended by the Greek Socialist party Pasok-Movement for Change in his home country. Pasok said he acted “following recent developments and the investigation by Belgian authorities into corruption by European authorities”.

Pasok and S&D declined to provide further details.

Kaili was arrested by police on Friday, hours after the four people were detained for questioning.

The federal prosecutor’s office said police carried out 16 raids in the Belgian capital Brussels on Friday as part of a corruption and money laundering investigation involving the EU parliament and a Gulf country.

The left-wing faction in the EU parliament has demanded that the “Qatar lobbying scandal” be placed on the parliamentary agenda next week so that more details on the issue can be identified and an appropriate response can be considered by lawmakers. .

The European Parliament’s Hemicycle in Strasbourg during a plenary session in 2014. (David Iliff via Wikimedia Commons)

Pasok has publicly distanced himself from comments Kaili made in the EU parliament last month, in which he praised Qatar and said that the football World Cup there “is indeed proof of how sports diplomacy can achieve a historical transformation in a country through reforms”. It draws inspiration from the Arab world.”

Belgian prosecutors said four people were detained for questioning and investigators confiscated around 600,000 euros ($633,500) in cash and computer equipment and mobile phones during the Brussels raids.

Prosecutors did not identify the four, but said one was a former member of the EU parliament. A source close to the event told AFP that at least three of them were either Italian nationals or originally from Italy. According to media reports, the former MP has been identified as Italian Pier-Antonio Panzeri, who served as a socialist in parliament from 2004 to 2019.

A spokesperson for Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office said all five people, including Kaili, continued to be questioned on Saturday.

“We are not aware of the details of an investigation. The allegations of misconduct by the State of Qatar have been severely misinformed,” a Qatari government official told AFP.

The country “operates in full compliance with international laws and regulations,” he added.

In the statement, it was stated that the raids specifically targeted the aides working for EU lawmakers. The EU parliament has 705 elected members from the bloc’s 27 member states. Each deputy has a number of assistants.

Prosecutors said the Belgian federal judicial police suspected the Gulf country was trying to “influence the economic and political decisions of the European Parliament”.

People gather around the official countdown clock showing the time until the start of the World Cup, which will be held in Doha, Qatar, on November 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

They claimed this was done “by paying large sums or presenting large gifts to third parties with an important political and/or strategic position within the European Parliament”.

The EU parliament’s press service declined to comment on the raids while the investigation was ongoing, but said parliament was cooperating fully with Belgian police.

Kaili was elected in January as one of the 14 vice presidents of the EU assembly, where he has been a member since 2014.

His arrest sparked calls on Saturday for the bloc’s lawmakers to be held to higher standards.

“This is not an isolated incident,” said Transparency International, the anti-corruption campaign group.

“While this is the worst case of corruption allegations the European Parliament has seen in many years, it is not an isolated incident,” its director, Michiel van Hulten, said in a statement.

β€œFor decades, Parliament has allowed a culture of impunity to flourish, with lax fiscal rules and controls and a complete absence of independent (or indeed any) ethical oversight.

“In many ways it became a law of its own,” added Van Hulten, and called for reform “from root and branch.”

“Any serious attempt to increase accountability is blocked by the Parliament’s ruling Bureau, with the consent of a majority of the Members of the European Parliament,” he added.

Left-wing French lawmaker Manon Aubry denounced Qatar’s “aggressive lobbying” and demanded a parliamentary debate on the Gulf state.

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