The European Parliament is in danger of being badly discredited as a result of one of the biggest corruption scandals in its history. Vice President Eva Kaili is said to have received money from the Gulf state of Qatar so that she could influence political decisions for the World Cup host country. The social democrat from Greece was arrested along with five other suspects. Four of them were taken into custody on Sunday by arrest warrant - including, according to media reports, the 44-year-old Deputy of Parliament. Many other MEPs, also from Germany, are now worried about the reputation.
In addition to allegations of bribery and corruptibility, there is also the suspicion of money laundering. Kaili was relieved of all her duties by Parliament Speaker Roberta Metsola over the weekend. So far she was one of a total of 14 deputies. The decision has yet to be formally confirmed by Parliament. The Social Democratic faction - to which the SPD MPs belong - has already suspended its membership. Her party excluded her.
Also arrested were a former Social Democrat MEP from Italy, Antonio Panzeri, and Kaili's Italian partner. As the newspaper "Le Soir" and the magazine "Knack" reported on Sunday, both were also imprisoned in custody. "They are accused of involvement in a criminal organization, money laundering and corruption," prosecutors said. The examining magistrate released two other arrested persons. The house of another MEP was searched on Saturday evening. According to media reports, it is the Belgian social democrat Marc Tarabella. His party announced on Sunday evening that it had quoted Tarabella before an internal party committee.
Brussels in shock
The allegations shocked the political establishment in Brussels. In the EU capital, where laws are made for around 450 million Europeans, lobbying is a matter of course. According to the Lobbycontrol association, there are around 25,000 lobbyists in the city. They all try to influence political decisions. But this case is different, more explosive - and suggests high criminal energy.
According to the public prosecutor's office, Belgian investigators have been suspecting a Gulf state of "influencing the economic and political decisions of the European Parliament" for several months. Large sums of money are said to have been paid or expensive gifts made to decision-makers in parliament. Investigators confirmed to the German Press Agency that the Gulf state is Qatar.
Kaili has been a member of the European Parliament since 2014, where she has since made a career almost to the top. After leaving parliament in Brussels, the social democrat Panzeri founded the non-governmental organization Fight Impunity, which claims to be fighting for human rights worldwide. The organization is also committed to fighting corruption. Panzeri's wife and daughter were placed under house arrest in Italy.
pockets full of cash
During the searches in Brussels on Friday, a total of 600,000 euros in cash and mobile phones were confiscated. According to media reports, investigators later found pockets full of cash in Kaili's apartment. The newspaper "Le Soir" wrote that the 44-year-old had been caught red-handed - "in flagranti". The Greek has previously sat in parliament for the Pasok party, which, together with the SPD, belongs to the Social Democratic group.
Once she has been relieved of her duties, only Parliament itself can decide to formally dismiss her. This could already happen during the plenary week in Strasbourg that begins this Monday. The former television presenter has already been excluded from her party.
The revelations mean great damage to the image of Parliament. It is obvious that Kaili is jeopardizing the trust of the voters, said the chairman of the SPD MEPs, Jens Geier, the dpa. "These are serious allegations and they need to be cleared up. There is no other way to regain lost trust." Parliament Vice Nicola Beer (FDP) told the dpa: "It is perfectly clear that this has an overall negative impact on Parliament."
Mockery hails from Hungary
The parliament, with more than 700 members, likes to position itself as a strong voice in the fight against corruption. MEPs regularly call for tough action against the EU country because of widespread corruption in Hungary. The malice from Budapest was not long in coming. There was much ridicule from the government.
But did Kaili and the other suspects actually illegally represent Qatar's interests? Kaili, at least, recently attracted attention with a rather unusual attitude. When parliament discussed a resolution in November that was supposed to criticize the World Cup in Qatar, the ex-journalist attested that the country was a pioneer when it came to labor rights. The World Cup is proof "that sports diplomacy can bring about historic change in a country whose reforms have inspired the Arab world". She also complained that anyone who spoke to Qataris was suspected of corruption.
The World Cup host has been criticized for years because of the human rights situation and the conditions for foreign workers. Numerous members of the then FIFA Executive Committee, which awarded the World Cup to Qatar in 2010, have now been convicted of corruption. However, Qatar itself has always denied allegations of bribery. The interior committee of the European Parliament, in turn, voted in early December to ease visa rules for Qatar and other countries.
Although Kaili herself is not a member of the committee, she also voted - to the surprise of her own group. According to parliamentary rules, it is possible for MPs to be replaced by non-members when voting. SPD Parliament Vice-President Katarina Barley told ZDF-Today: "She (Kaili) sat at the very back, where normally only employees sit - far away from our group. You could also say: she hid." However, the last word on visa liberalization has not yet been spoken. Parliament still has to negotiate this with the EU countries. Green MP Erik Marquardt, who is responsible for the issue in Parliament, has already made it clear that visa liberalization cannot take place in the current situation.