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Politics

Greek MEP Kaili’s Arrest in Qatar Corruption Probe Shakes Up EU

BRUSSELS – An investigation into an alleged attempt by World Cup host Qatar to buy influence in the European Parliament which led to the arrest of Greek EU lawmaker Eva Kaili has rocked its foundations.

The brewing scandal that saw Kaili and her Italian partner detained, as well as four others, was an attempt to undermine democracy, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said in a trembling address there.

“Make no mistake, the European Parliament, dear colleague, is under attack. European democracy is under attack,” Metsolsa said during the opening of December’s plenary session.
Kaili in November – after visiting the Qatar during the scandalized World Cup of soccer in which it was alleged the host country bribed officials to win the bid and where 6500 foreign workers reportedly died building facilities – praised its labor rights record on the floor of Parliament.

In November Kaili gushed unabashedly about Qatar, which she had visited, drawing surprise even within her own PASOK party which made no move about it despite her words drawing questions.
“The World Cup in Qatar is proof, actually, of how sports diplomacy can achieve a historical transformation of a country with reforms that inspired the Arab world,” she also said.
“Still, some here are calling to discriminate (against) them. They bully them, and they accuse everyone that talks to them or engages of corruption,” she added in what amounted to a robust defense despite its miserable record of human and labor rights violations.

Investigators reportedly said that Qatar was trying to buy influence ahead of a vote that would have given Qataris visa-free travel in the European Union, which has now been set aside.
Metsola had to fly back from Malta in order to be present for the police search, a legal requirement under Belgian law, a spokesperson told Euronews and she told the Parliament she felt “fury, anger and sorrow” over the developments.

GAS-LIGHTING

“These malign actors linked to autocratic third countries have allegedly weaponized NGOs, unions, individuals, assistants and Members of the European Parliament in an effort to subdue our processes. Their malicious plans failed,” Metsola also said.

“I know also that we are not at the end of the road and we will continue to assist in investigations, together with other EU institutions, for as long as it takes. Corruption cannot pay and we have played our part in ensuring these plans could not materialize,”she also added.

In a report, the New York Times noted the intertwining of the EU’s need for alternatives to Russian energy that was exempted from sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine, but with worries the supplies could be cut off.

Qatar is a major supplier of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) – Greece is becoming an EU hub to distribute it through the growing port of Alexandroupoli – and was seeking to gain visa-free travel for its citizens in the bloc. That, said Metsola, has been put on hold. Qatar, as it did over allegations of bribing soccer officials to gain the World Cup, denied any wrongdoing.

The Belgian newspaper L’Echo and other media reported that the individuals charged include Kaili and the French newspaper Le Soir said among the others was her partner Francesco Giorgi.
He is a parliamentary assistant to another MEP and a founder of the NGO Fight Impunity an anti-corruption group whose leader, Italian former MEP Antonio Panzeri, also was charged in the case, according to Le Soir. An unnamed lobbyist also was charged, it said. The four will remain in custody.

Kaili’s father, who was also detained in the probe, was released, as was trade union leader Luca Visentini, according to reports which said Belgian police found 600,000 euros ($633,102) in a suitcase carried by her father and 150,000 euros ($158,275) in her Brussels home.

MEET YOU IN THE LOBBY

She was ejected from her PASOK party in Greece, stripped of her duties as European Parliament Vice-President and suspended from the Socialists & Democrats groups that had been reluctant to speak out against Qatar.

Metsola said that the European Parliament, which has weak regulations about lobbying, was launching its own, internal inquiry and that it would continue assisting the authorities with their investigation, reports said.

The investigation was widening with the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s office saying there were more raids being conducted -including in Italy – and potential evidence being seized in offices.

“A total of 20 searches have been carried out since the beginning of the operations, including 19 in private homes and the one in the offices of the European Parliament,” the prosecutor said in a statement.

The defendants face up to 15 years in prison for the crimes they are accused of, Belgian legal experts said but a ripple effect was already spreading through the institution where anti-corruption groups have complained of weak measures.

Kaili’s assets, as well as those of her father and sister, in Greece have been frozen. Her father, Alexandros, was among those detained by the Belgian authorities but her lawyer, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, said he had been released without charge.

Another Greek politician and a European Commission Vice-President – Margaritis Schinas from Greece’s ruling New Democracy – also visited Qatar and came back with high praise but hasn’t been tied to the probe.

Still, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen shied away from him as she denounced the apparent corruption in the Parliament – her office had to put out a statement saying he was in line with its policies.

“Qatar, the first Arab and the smallest country ever to host the Cup, delivered reforms & merits a global success,” Schinas tweeted before the soccer tournament began and hasn’t clarified it.

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