Five arrests and at least 17 searches were carried out on Friday morning, December 9, in Brussels as part of a vast anti-corruption investigation into European Parliament members suspected of having received bribes from Qatar, Belgian news outlets Knack and Le Soir report.
According to these media outlets, Eva Kaili, one of the 14 vice presidents of the European Parliament, has been detained for questioning. Investigators reportedly also searched her residence. Belgium’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office, while initially hesitant to divulge specific names, has confirmed that information. European Parliament president Roberta Metsola “has decided to suspend with immediate effect all powers, duties and tasks that were delegated to Eva Kaili in her capacity as Vice-President of the European Parliament,” a spokesperson said.
For several months, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office suspected that a Persian Gulf country was trying to influence the economic and political decision-making of the European Parliament “by paying large sums of money or offering large gifts to third parties with an important political and/or strategic position within the European Parliament,” the Federal Prosecutor’s Office elaborated.
Subsequently, a judicial investigation was launched to look into possible criminal organization, corruption, and money laundering. As part of that investigation, sixteen searches were conducted on Friday in Ixelles, Schaarbeek, Kraainem, Forest, and Brussels. During the searches, investigators seized about €600,000 in cash in one location, in addition to computer equipment and cell phones. These will all be analyzed, the office said.
A former TV presenter, Kaili has been an MEP for the Greek party PASOK and a member of the S&D (Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats) group since 2014 and had this year been appointed to the post as vice president of the European Parliament. One of her responsibilities was to maintain good relations with the Middle East, which entailed having to meet with many of the region’s dignitaries.
Recently, Kaili called Qatar a “frontrunner in labor rights” after having met with Qatar’s labor minister— this despite deep international concerns about workers’ conditions during the construction of the stadiums needed for this year’s World Cup, which Qatar is hosting.
The statement came one week after the EU Parliament issued a press release in which it decried the deaths of thousands of migrant workers, and called on Qatar and FIFA—the corruption of which it described as “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted”—to compensate all victims.
While malfeasance has not yet been decidedly proven and judgment, therefore, needs to be reserved, the S&D group has chosen to suspend Kaili’s membership effective immediately. Kaili has also been expelled from PASOK, the party announced on Friday.
Kaili’s partner, F.G., a parliamentary assistant for the S&D group, was questioned by investigators. He used to work for former Italian MEP Pier-Antonio Panzeri (then an S&D member) and is also active in Panzeri’s non-profit organization Fight Impunity, the office of which was searched.
On its website, the NGO says it promotes”the fight against impunity for serious violations of human rights and crimes against humanity having the principle of accountability as a central pillar of the architecture of international justice.”
It was in their offices that the €600,000 [in what one infers is suspected to be bribe money] was seized. Panzeri himself was also questioned. Investigators suspect Panzeri to be the ringleader of the whole enterprise.
In 2014, Panzeri became a member of the European Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights. From 2017-2019, he served as its chairman. In that capacity, he stated in April 2019, during a press conference on the sidelines of an international conference in Doha, that Qatar had become a reference for the protection of human rights and was constantly proving that it was on the right track.
One other prominent person placed under arrest is Luca Visentini, the newly elected secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation (which boasts about 200 million members worldwide).
In addition, the office of a parliamentary assistant to the Belgian MEP Marie Arena (also part of the S&D) was placed under judicial seal during the day, which the former minister confirmed during the evening:
“I was there when it happened, when the people placed the seals. It is indeed the office of my assistant. But they sealed it because she used to work for the NGO Fight Impunity, I think, in 2019. She was searched this morning and it was in the continuation of the search of her home that they sealed the office in [the European] Parliament,” she explained, stressing that it had “nothing to do with the fact that she is my assistant.”
Marc Tarabella’s assistant’s office was sealed as well, but the Belgian MEP (again, an S&D member) as of yet has not responded to questions.
The European Parliament has not yet issued a statement, declining to comment at this point in time.