BRUSSELS – Belgian Police reportedly found 600,000 euros ($685,160) in a suitcase being carried by the father of a Greek Member of the European Parliament, Eva Kaili, and 150,000 euros ($158,110) at her home in Brussels as a probe into an alleged bribery scheme by Qatar continued.
The Italian news agency ANSAMED said her father was caught while transporting the money – one report said on a train – and that it was in 20 and 50 euro banknotes, said the Belgian newspaper L’Echo.
Greek anti-money laundering authorities froze her assets and she faced being stripped of her title as one of the parliament’s 14 Vice-Presidents after losing the authority to perform any duties.
The Greek authorities were looking into her “bank accounts, safes, companies and any other financial assets,” the French newspaper Le Soir said, quoting the agency’s chief Haralambos Vourliotis.
The Belgian paper said that Greek investigators are looking into the finances of her close relations, including her parents and a real estate agency she was said to have set up in the expensive Athens enclave Kolonaki, a home of the rich.
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 an address to Parliament where she struggled to contain her anger.
“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.
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.
DARK DAY FOR DEMOCRACY
Five others, including Kaili’s husband, Francesco Giorgi, who works as a parliamentary assistant, and Italian former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, were also taken in for questioning.
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.
“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.
Metsola said the allegations surrounding Kaili were not about “left or right” but about “right and wrong” and urged lawmakers to “resist the temptation to exploit this moment for political gain,” the site said.
“Do not cheapen the threat we are facing,” she asked them, the site said as she promised to review the transparency rules that govern meetings between lawmakers and foreign actors and said that,”There will be no impunity. None.”
Belgium’s Federal Prosecutors Office said that technology resources of 10 parliamentary staffs were frozen “to prevent the “disappearance of data necessary for the investigation,” after a search there.
Qatar denied any wrongdoing and issued a statement rejecting any allegations of misconduct or bribery and that, “Any association of the Qatari government with the reported claims is baseless and gravely misinformed.”
Ghent University Professor Hendrik Vos, an EU expert, told The Associated Press the case could have lingering repercussions on the generally positive image of the European Parliament.
“There has never been such a massive corruption scandal hitting the Parliament,” he said. “It is so profound because it jars so fundamentally with what Parliament pretends to stand for. The Parliament pretends to stand for transparency, unable to be bribed, to defend fundamental values. And then, you get something like this.”