NEW YORK – Jailed Greek Member of the European Parliament Eva Kaili has denied taking money from World Cup host Qatar to push its agenda but was seated in a box reserved for royalty and heads of state at the opening game.
She also met the head of state, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and returned to make an unabashedly robust defense of Qatar’s labor rights record on the floor of the Parliament.
That shocked her PASOK Socialist party for standing up for a country where reports said as many as 6500 foreign workers died building facilities for two weeks of the soccer games, and which was accused of bribing FIFA officials to win the bid.
In a feature report, The New York Times noted how Kaili – who was a Vice-President of the Parliament but had no responsibilities for the Middle East – went to Qatar in place of German MEP Hannah Neumann, who is head of a committee on relations with the Arabian Peninsula.
Neumann said her committee planned for a year to be there to review Qatar’s progress on human and labor rights but in late September said she was surprised to be told her trip had to be canceled because the building where they were to meet was under construction.
Neumann said she became angry when Kaili showed up in Doha instead. “She was giving statements that were much more pro-Qatar than the Parliament’s position, pretending to speak on behalf of Parliament,” Neumann said in an interview with The Times.
Kaili had no official business being in Qatar and her trip was private people who saw her in the V.V.I.P. Box where she was seated next to princes told the people about her appearance there.
She made no bones about being a mouthpiece for Qatar when she spoke to colleagues surprised to hear praise for a country widely vilified for its labor rights record and suppressing women.
“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,” Kaili said, calling Qatar’s critics bullies. “They accuse everyone that talks to them or engages, of corruption.”
Those words could come back to haunt her as she is one of four people – including her partner Francesco Giorgi – now faces charges of corruption, money laundering and running a criminal organization.
SHOW THE MONEY
He reportedly confessed to taking money from Qatar as well as Morocco but Qatar’s government put out statement denying any wrongdoing even as the investigation has widened and she and he and the others remain jailed for now.
Police raids found 1.5 million euros in cash ($1.59 million) including 150,000 euros ($159,367) in the Brussels home of Kaili and Giorgi, another 600,000 euros ($637,470) in a suitcase being carried by her father in a hotel and 600,00 more at the home of Italian former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri.
He and Giorgi ran an anti-corruption group called Fight Impunity and the report said Belgian investigators have been working on the case for a year and broke it up during the World Cup.
Kaili’s lawyer, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, said she was innocent. “She simply had no knowledge of the cash,” he said. “She did Qatar no favors at all, because all her positions were, in fact, in line with EU policy on Qatar.”
Giorgi’s lawyer had no comment. Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper reported, citing sealed court documents, that Giorgi was cooperating with investigators who said he gave a break-through confession.
The case has more than embarrassed the European Union and gave credence to critics about rampant corruption. It revealed how there’s virtually no regulation of lobbyists and foreign agents ability to meet MEP’s without scrutiny, oversight or if money is passing hands.
“It has been a difficult week in Brussels,” Parliament President Roberta Metsola told EU leaders. “There will always be some for whom a bag of cash is always worth the risk. It is essential that these people understand that they will get caught,” the paper said she said.
The Parliament’s 705 lawmakers have essentially window dressing role in the EU which is run by the European Commission, the MEP’s approving legislation and taking part in the process but has no real power.
“The Parliament is easily accessible and it has become an attractive ground for all kinds of lobbyists,” Michiel van Hulten, the head of Transparency International E.U. and a former European lawmaker told the paper. “Because of this, it is relatively easy to operate under the radar and not get caught,” he added.
The report also noted how Kaili, 44, and Giorgi, 35, have enjoyed a lavish lifestyle as she ascended in the political ladder. MEP’s are paid 9166.30 euros ($9735) gross and 7,146.11 ($758) after taxes but members also get a 338 euro ($358.97) daily allowance to cover accommodation and related costs for each day that MEPs are in Brussels or Strasbourg on official business.
THE GOOD LIFE
Kaili was stripped of her VP duties by the Parliament with only one dissenting vote, suspended from the Socialists & Democrats group there and ejected by PASOK in Greece, which moved fast to distance itself from her.
Until then she and her partner were living the high life as his salary added another $3624 euros ($3854) to their income, not including a long line of perks, privileges and other benefits.
On social media they showed themselves off sailing in the Aegean Sea, skiing Mont Blanc, visiting mosques in Oman and drinking cocktails in Minorca, the paper noted, apart from COVID-19 lockdowns spent in Athens.
As the World Cup drew close, Kaili and Giorgi’s stepped of their advocacy of Qatar – she wanted visa-free travel for Qataris in the EU – even as human rights groups were piling on criticism of the country where homosexuality is against the law and a woman under 25 must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel abroad.
Colleagues said she also undermined Parliament’s scrutiny of Qatar’s handling of the World Cup although her lawyer as a spokesman for Metsola said she went there on official business.
But when she returned a resolution that criticized human-rights record ran into unexpected resistance. “It was difficult to even put it on the agenda,” liberal lawmaker Katalin Cseh from Hungary told the paper, adding: “I was shocked.”
Her allies said they couldn’t understand her motives either. “As social democrats, we should take the lead in putting the spotlight on the human-rights violations,” Danish MEP Niels Fuglsang told the paper.
He said a resolution he drafted criticizing Qatar was opposed by at least one of the people now being investigated — he would not say who — and was ultimately rejected and replaced with one that gushed outright praise.
To soften a resolution that was tough on Qatar, Giorgi, working for a new Member of Parliament, sent out an email to all Socialist lawmakers to vote down an amendment that said that Qatar had bribed to win the hosting of the World Cup.
“The European Parliament should not accuse a country without evidences coming out from the competent judicial authorities,” said the email, sent in the name of the lawmaker Andrea Cozzolino. When the vote was held Nov. 24, he then succeeded in getting the bribery language removed.
“I thought the political fights we had were based on honest political assessments leading to different conclusions,” Ms. Neumann said. “But now I know that I was most likely fighting against a corruption network.”