Corruption investigation: Greek Kaili withdraws her mandate as vice-president of the European Parliament
Sylvie Claire / December 11, 2022
Greek MEP Eva Kaili was arrested on Friday by Belgian police and stripped of her title and powers as vice-president of the European Parliament after suspicions of corruption linked to Qatar plagued the institution. In total, five people including the MEP were arrested.
An anti-corruption operation by the Belgian police in the European Parliament, linked to Qatar, caused strong reactions in Brussels on Saturday, with elected representatives and NGOs calling for an urgent debate on improving the rules of ethics in this major EU institution. In the evening, the president of the Parliament Roberta Metsola announced through a spokesperson the first sanction in this case: the Greek Eva Kaili, questioned on Friday by the Belgian police, was stripped of her title and her powers as vice-president.
This is not an isolated incident," said Transparency International in the wake of the police operation. "For several decades, the Parliament has allowed a culture of impunity to develop (...) and a total lack of independent ethical control. This control in the institution is "flawed", added Alberto Alemanno, professor of law at the College of Europe in Bruges, on Twitter.
Five people, including Eva Kaili, were arrested Friday in Brussels after at least 16 searches in an investigation into suspicions of "substantial" payments of money by a Gulf country to influence the decisions of MEPs. The federal prosecutor's office did not name the country, but a judicial source close to the case confirmed to AFP that it was Qatar, as revealed by the media Le Soir and Knack. "Any allegation of misconduct on the part of the State of Qatar shows a serious misinformation," reacted Saturday an official of the Qatari government requested by AFP.
The affair broke out in the middle of the World Cup 2022, when the host country must make efforts to defend its criticized reputation in terms of respect for human rights, particularly those of workers. And the case took on an extra dimension when the identity of the fifth person arrested on Friday evening was confirmed. Greek MEP Eva Kaili is a 44-year-old former TV presenter who has become a figure of social democracy in her country. She had until Saturday evening the title of vice-president of the European Parliament as 13 other elected officials.
In light of the ongoing judicial investigations by the Belgian authorities, President Metsola has decided to suspend with immediate effect all powers, duties and tasks that have been delegated to Eva Kaili in her capacity as Vice-President of the European Parliament," a spokesperson for Mrs. Metsola announced in the evening.
By Friday evening, Ms. Kaili had been excluded from the Greek Socialist Party (Pasok-Kinal), which would also like to see her give up her seat in the European Parliament. The Socialist and Democrat Group (S&D) of the European Parliament announced her suspension "with immediate effect". On Saturday, the hearings of five suspects continued in Brussels, according to a spokesman for the federal prosecutor's office. A possible placement in custody by the investigating judge must be decided within 48 hours after the arrest, or Sunday at the latest.
The investigation by Belgian judge Michel Claise is aimed at "corruption" and "money laundering" in organized gangs, according to the prosecutor. On Saturday, the Belgian newspaper L'Echo said that "several bags full of money" had been discovered at the Brussels home of Eva Kaili, which the police searched after catching the father of the elected representative himself in possession of a large amount of cash in "a suitcase".
According to information confirmed to AFP, at least three suspects arrested Friday are Italians or of Italian origin: former Socialist MEP Pier-Antonio Panzeri (who served from 2004 to 2019), the secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Luca Visentini, as well as Francesco Giorgi, a parliamentary assistant of the S&D group, companion of Ms Kaili.
In addition to the five in Belgium, there were two arrests in Italy, an Italian government source confirmed to AFP in Rome on Saturday. They are the wife and daughter of Mr. Panzeri. Eva Kaili had visited Qatar in early November where she had welcomed in the presence of the Qatari Minister of Labour the reforms of the emirate in this sector. "Qatar is a leader in labor rights", the Greek woman had also stated on November 22 at the European Parliament.
These words, which had then caused a stir in the ranks of the left, came back to the minds of many MEPs when the arrest of Ms. Kaili was announced. French socialists denounced "a serious scandal", while environmentalists Michèle Rivasi and David Cormand pointed to "a guilty complacency" of some social democrats (S&D) during the debate on Qatar at the last plenary session.
The next session, which starts on Monday in Strasbourg, promises to be turbulent. French MEP Manon Aubry (radical left) demanded a new debate on the same subject, blasting "the aggressive lobbying of Qatar" on Saturday.