UPDATED: EP Vice-President Eva Kaili charged in connection with Qatar corruption scandal

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A Belgian judge charged four people on Sunday over allegedly receiving money and gifts from a Gulf state to influence decisions in the European Parliament, accusations that have caused consternation in Brussels.

European Parliament Vice-President Eva Kaili and three others were charged and imprisoned on Sunday in Belgium, amid a police probe into alleged corruption linked with Qatar. 

Six people were initially detained. They did not name any of those involved.

Five people were arrested on Friday in Brussels after investigators made 16 searches into suspicions of “substantial” money payments by the Gulf state to influence MEP’s decisions. 

One more person was detained in the last 48 hours. 

Kaili — a Greek Socialist MEP and one of 14 vice presidents at the European legislative body — has been suspended from her party and sanctioned. She is temporarily withdrawn from her duties, such as representing the head of the parliament in the Middle East.

European 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,” a spokesperson said.

Metsola said on Twitter that the parliament “stands firmly against corruption”, adding they would so everything they could to “assist the course of justice”.

Socialist MEP Eva Kaili was arrested on Friday hours after four others were detained for questioning.

The announcement came amid mounting outrage over the allegations and calls for action to tackle corruption inside the European Parliament.

Eva Kaili. Photo: EP

At least three of the others arrested were either Italian citizens or originally came from Italy, a source close to the case told AFP.

Kaili, 44, is the partner of one of the four others detained: Francesco Giorgi, a parliamentary assistant with the European Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats group, said the source.

Former Italian MEP Pier-Antonio Panzeri, who served as a socialist in the parliament between 2004 and 2019, was also reportedly arrested. 

Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office said the investigation concerned suspected “corruption” and “money laundering”.

In Rome, a government source confirmed to AFP reports that Panzeri’s wife and daughter had been detained.

The arrests followed raids in Brussels which Belgian prosecutors said turned up 600,000 euros ($630,000) in cash. Police also seized computers and mobile phones.

Belgian daily L’Echo reported that “several bags full of (cash) notes” had been found at Kaili’s Brussels home.

While prosecutors did not name the country under investigation, a legal source close to the case confirmed to AFP Belgian press reports that it was Qatar.

Kaili is a former television presenter and one of the European Parliament’s 14 vice presidents. In November, just prior to the World Cup, she met Qatar’s Labour Minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri.

In a video statement posted on Twitter by the Qatar News Agency, she said: “I believe the World Cup for Arabs has been a great tool for… political transformation and reforms”.

In a subsequent speech at the European Parliament she said Qatar was a “front-runner in labour rights”.

In Athens, the president of the Greek socialists (PASOK) Nikos Androulakis announced on Twitter that Kaili had been expelled from the party.

On Saturday, the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament announced they had suspended her membership.

Panzeri, 67, currently heads a Brussels-based human rights organisation called Fight Impunity.

The secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation, Italian Luca Visentini, was also among those reportedly arrested. The ITUC said it was “aware” of the media reports.

World Cup host Qatar has striven to improve its image in the face of criticism over its record on worker protections and human rights. 

Migrant workers make up more than 2.5 million of Qatar’s 2.9 million population.

A Qatari official denied accusations of possible misconduct.

“Any association of the Qatari government with the reported claims is baseless and gravely misinformed,” the official said, adding that Qatar worked through institution-to-institution engagement and in full compliance with international laws.

Read more via AFP/France24/Reuters

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