European parliament corruption: Four charged in Qatar scandal

Four people have been charged in connection with an anti-corruption investigation into the European Parliament.

File photo
File photo

Four people have been charged in connection with an anti-corruption investigation into the European Parliament.

European Parliament Vice-President Eva Kaili and three others were charged and imprisoned on Sunday in Belgium, amid a police probe into alleged corruption linked with Qatar.

Five were arrested last Friday after 16 searches into suspicions of substantial payments by the Gulf state in order to influence MEP’s decisions. The arrests were carried out in Brussels.

Kaili -- a Greek Socialist MEP and one of 14 vice presidents at the European legislative body -- has been suspended from her party and sanctioned. She is temporarily withdrawn from her duties, such as representing the head of the parliament in the Middle East.

Kaili, 44, has been an MEP since 2014.

At least three of those arrested are all believed to be Italian citizens: director of No Peace Without Justice NGO Niccolò Figà-Talamanca; trade union leader Luca Visentini; the former S&D MEP Pier-Antonio Panzeri; and parliamentary assistant in the S&D group and Kaili's partner, Francesco Giorgi, according to Italian news agency ANSA.

In a tweet on Saturday, President Roberta Metsola said the European Parliament stands firmly against corruption.

“At this stage, we cannot comment on any ongoing investigations except to confirm that we have & will cooperate fully with all relevant law enforcement & judicial authorities,” she said. “We'll do all we can to assist the course of justice.”

On Saturday the Belgian newspaper L'Echo claimed that “several bags full of banknotes" were discovered at Kaili's Brussels home. Police searched her house after allegedly finding her father in possession of a large amount of cash in "a suitcase".

Belgium's Federal Prosecutor's Office said it recovered €600,000 in cash and seized computers and mobile phones in Friday's swoop.

In November, Kaili went to Qatar where she welcomed "reforms" in the Gulf State.

"Qatar is a leader in terms of labour rights," she said afterwards at the podium of the European Parliament, sparking a fierce backlash from other MEPs.

The Greek socialist party PASOK, of which Kaili is a member, announced on Friday evening that she was "expelled" from its membership.

The EU legislator will open on Monday in what promises to be a firey session. French socialists have lambasted the "very serious scandal", with MEP Manon Aubry demanding a debate on the issue and criticising "aggressive lobbying" by Qatar.