BRUSSELS – PASOK Member of the European Parliament Eva Kaili, questioned in a corruption investigation tied to Qatar, has been been suspended from her position as a Viceo-President in the body.
She’s part of an influence peddling probe in which it was said Qatar – where thousands of foreign workers allegedly died while building facilities for the ongoing World Cup facing charges of corruption – tried to polish its image.
Kaili was a TV news anchor in Greece and had been immediately ejected from the Socialist party that has been rebuilding its fortunes under new leader Nikos Androulakis, her colleague in the European Parliament.
She was also ejected from EU’s Socialists and Democrats group after being caught up a brewing scandal when Belgian police staged 16 raids across Brussels as part of a probe into corruption and money laundering at the Parliament.
Four people were detained for questioning, and investigators recovered around 600,000 euros ($633,500) in cash and seized computer equipment and mobile telephones. Prosecutors did not identify the four but at least one was an EU lawmaker and one was a former member.
Prosecutors wouldn’t name the Mideast country involved that was suspected of offering cash or gifts to officials at the Parliament in exchange for political favors, but several members have linked the investigation to Qatar.
Parliament President Roberta Metsola “has decided to suspend with immediate effect all powers, duties and tasks that were delegated to Eva Kaili in her capacity as Vice-President of the European Parliament,” Metsola’s spokesman said.
The decision was taken “in the light of the ongoing judicial investigations by Belgian authorities,” he said, without providing further details. The EU assembly is set to hold its last plenary session of the year in Strasbourg, France, starting Dec. 12.
The Co-president of the Greens group, Philippe Lamberts, called for a parliamentary inquiry and for the issue to be put to debate, echoing calls from some other political groups to look into the cases.
The Greens “strongly condemn corruption and bribery, cash and precious gifts cannot draw the political lines in this house,” Lamberts said in a statement. He added that his group “will vote against visa facilitation for Qatar in this week’s plenary vote.”
The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, proposed in April that citizens from Qatar be granted short visa-free stays in the 27-nation bloc provided they have a biometric passport.
PASOK had in November had publicly distanced itself from remarks she made in the EU Parliament praising Qatar which can’t get away from ongoing criticism over human rights and labor rights violations.
She said the World Cup is “proof, actually, of how sports diplomacy can achieve a historical transformation of a country with reforms that inspired the Arab world.” Kaili also repeated what she said is an International Labour Organization view that “Qatar is a frontrunner in labor rights.”
After the raids, Belgian prosecutors said Federal judicial police suspect that an undisclosed country in the Gulf region has been trying “to influence the economic and political decisions of the European Parliament” but refused to name it.
Qatar was said to be trying to influence the Parliament by allegedly “paying large sums of money or offering large gifts to third parties with a significant political and/or strategic position within the European Parliament.”
In Italy Article One, a small center-left party, suspended former EU lawmaker Pier-Antonio Panzeri following reports he was caught in the scandal that has brought embarrassment to the Parliament.
Article One said it was “disturbed” by the reports but confident in Belgian investigators and “hopes that Panzeri can show he is not involved in something that is completely incompatible with his history and political commitment.”
Panzeri, who was inscribed in the Lombardy branch of Article One, was also once a member of the same political group in the EU Parliament as Kaili, the Socialists and Democrats who had been reluctant to take on Qatar.
The head of the group, Iratxe Garcia Perez, tweeted that “Eva Kaili should be replaced as EP Vice-President in order to protect the institution’s respectability and citizens’ trust.”
The International Trade Union Confederation when asked by The Associated Press about reports that its General-Secretary, Luca Visentini, was also caught up in the affair said it wouldn’t comment.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)