Top leaders of the European Parliament have unanimously agreed to strip a Greek MEP implicated in a bribery and corruption scandal from her role as vice-president of the body.
The decision on Eva Kaili must be approved by two-thirds of the 705 MEPs in the European Parliament, who are due to vote on the issue later on Tuesday.
“Group presidents in the European Parliament voted unanimously for the impeachment of Vice-President Kaili just now,” tweeted German MEP Terry Reintke, co-president of the Greens group. “We have also agreed to a full investigation into the matter and to take further preventive measures.”
The European Parliament has been rocked by the biggest scandal in its history, since Belgian prosecutors announced that they had charged four people with corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal organisation, as part of an investigation into attempts of a Gulf state, named by the Belgian media as Qatar, to buy influence in the assembly.
Police have searched the offices of the European Parliament and 19 private homes since Friday, searches which yielded data and hundreds of thousands of euros in cash.
Kaili, one of 14 deputy speakers of parliament, is one of four people charged, although she has not been officially named. She was taken into custody and will appear before a judge on Wednesday.
Breaking Kaili’s silence on Tuesday, her lawyer said she was innocent. “Her position is that she is innocent. She has nothing to do with the bribes from Qatar,” her lawyer, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, told Greek television channel Open TV.
Police seized computers, mobile phones and €600,000 (£515,000) in cash from a house, as well as €150,000 from an apartment belonging to an MEP and “several hundred thousand euros” from a Brussels hotel room, according to the public prosecutor.
When asked if any cash was found at Kaili’s home, Dimitrakopoulos replied, “I neither confirm nor deny. There is confidentiality. I have no idea if any money was found or how much was found.
Kaili was expelled from the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament and the Greek Pasok party, and the Greek authorities froze her assets.
MEPs have postponed a vote on granting Qatari citizens the right to visa-free travel to the EU that was due to take place this week.
“We have to make sure that this process has not been influenced by corruption,” said German Green MEP Erik Marquardt, in charge of the file, which also affects Kuwait, Oman and Ecuador.
“We must also ensure that any attempt to attack our democracy has consequences. For the time being, we are not going to proceed with visa liberalization for Qatar.
Qatar has denied any wrongdoing.
EU leaders are expected to discuss the scandal when they meet with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola on Thursday at a regular summit in Brussels. EU executive chairwoman Ursula von der Leyen said the allegations were ‘extremely worrying’ and promised to follow through on a 2019 pledge to create an independent ethics body for all EU institutions .
The Guardian further understands that at least four MPs from the Socialists and Democrats group employing parliamentary assistants who are the subject of the Belgian police investigation have stepped down from their duties in parliament while the investigation is ongoing, at the request of the group.
Anti-corruption NGO Transparency International said the case appeared to be “a bribery and corruption scandal of epic proportions” which demanded “fundamental reform of the ethics and integrity systems of the European institutions “.