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What is the European Parliament corruption scandal in Qatar and who is Eva Kaili?



BRUSSELS — Hundreds of thousands in cash. Coordinated police raids. Accusations of corruption and money laundering at the highest level.

The European Union’s de facto capital is rocked by explosive allegations that World Cup hosts Qatar bribed current and former European Parliament officials to try to influence decisions.

After at least 16 raids across Brussels on Friday, Belgian authorities confiscated a bag containing more than $630,000, along with electronic devices, and detained six people for questioning.

On Sunday, a Belgian judge indicted four of them, saying they were suspected of money laundering, corruption and participation in a criminal organization on behalf of a “Gulf State”. Belgian media identified the state as Qatar and reported that those charged include European Parliament Vice-President Eva Kaili and her partner, parliamentary assistant Francesco Giorgi, as well as former member of the European Parliament, Pier Antonio Panzeri.

Others are said to have been caught up in the investigation, including the head of a Brussels-based union and an unnamed Italian national. European authorities have not yet confirmed the country, and Qatar has denied any wrongdoing.

Within the European institutions, it is being talked about as the biggest scandal in recent memory. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the response would test “Europe’s credibility”.

Here’s what you need to know.

Who is Eva Kaili and what is she accused of?

Before being charged in this case, Eva Kaili, 44, was a Greek deputy and vice-president of the European Parliament.

The vice-presidents can replace the president of the institution when necessary, in particular by chairing the monthly plenary sessions where important decisions are voted on, and have a say in administrative, personnel and organizational matters.

But their power was limited. The European Parliament is the weakest of the three key institutions of the European Union. The institution has 14 vice-presidents and 705 members.

Kalli is known in Greece as a former news anchor.

Belgian police arrested Kaili and charged her with participation in a criminal organization, money laundering and corruption, according to Agence France-Presse.

The fallout was immediate: her political group in the European Parliament, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), suspended her, as did her political party in Greece, the Pasok-Movement for Change. On Saturday, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola suspended Kaili from her “powers, duties and tasks” as vice-president.

According to Belgian newspaper L’Echo, security forces who searched Kaili’s home on Friday found bags of cash. They also questioned Kaili’s father, after he was found with a suitcase full of cash as he left the Sofitel hotel in Brussels. Detectives suspect he was tipped off about the ongoing police operation, L’Echo reported, citing police sources.

Who is Francesco Giorgi and what is he accused of?

Francesco Giorgi is Kaili’s partner. He was arrested on Friday as part of the corruption investigation, and his phone was seized by Belgian law enforcement, according to the Belgian newspaper Le Soir.

The European Parliament lists Giorgi as an accredited assistant to Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino, who is part of the same parliamentary group as Kaili and who chairs the delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries (Northwest Africa). Giorgi describes himself on LinkedIn as a “political adviser in the field of human rights, EU foreign affairs with an extensive network of contacts with parliamentarians, politicians, EU institutions, NGOs, diplomats”.

Giorgi presents himself as one of the founders of the global group based in Brussels The human rights association Fight Impunity, whose president, Pier Antonio Panzeri, is also involved in the corruption investigation.

Who is Antonio Panzeri and what is he accused of?

Pier Antonio Panzeri, 67, was a member of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2009 where he notably chaired the delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries (DMAG) within the S&D group. He founded Fight Impunity in 2019 and is now its president.

According to Le Soir, Belgian investigators suspect Panzeri of leading a criminal organization to influence decision-making in the European Parliament with money and gifts on behalf of the Qatari government. When Belgian police searched Panzeri’s home as part of the corruption investigation, they found €600,000 ($634,000) in cash, the newspaper reported. He has been charged, along with Kaili, Giorgi and a third suspect, with bribery, criminal organization and money laundering, and will remain in custody pending a decision by Belgian authorities in the coming days.

On Friday, Italian police arrested Panzeri’s wife and daughter, who were the subject of a European arrest warrant, according to Politico and Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

How would Qatar be involved?

Belgian prosecutors suspect “that third parties occupying political and/or strategic positions within the European Parliament received large sums of money or offered substantial gifts to influence the decision of the Parliament”. Belgian media widely reported that the “Gulf country” suspected of being behind the scheme is Qatar, although EU authorities did not name it.

Kaili recently traveled to Qatar, meeting with Labor Minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri, although a previous trip organized for DMAG members was postponed by Qatari officials with little notice, Politico reported.

Back in Brussels, according to Politico, Kaili attended a vote by the European Parliament’s Justice and Home Affairs Committee – of which she is not a member – to back a proposal to allow Qataris and Kuwaitis to travel. without a visa in the EU Schengen area. She also described the country as a “trailblazer on labor rights” during a debate on 21 November.

Following this debate, the European Parliament condemned Qatar and football’s governing body, FIFA, for human rights violations against migrant workers involved in the construction of World Cup infrastructure. The deaths of thousands of workers remain unexplained.

The Qatari government has denied any involvement in the alleged corruption scheme, which has made headlines as the World Cup enters its final rounds and the country seeks to portray itself as a forward-looking geopolitical player and key.

For Qatar, the World Cup is a high-stakes test and a show of weight

“The State of Qatar categorically rejects any attempt to associate him with charges of misconduct,” the Qatari Mission to the European Union said in a tweet on Sunday. “Any association of the Qatari government with the reported allegations is baseless and grossly misinformed.”

What does this mean for European politics?

The arrests will raise new questions about corruption and influence peddling in EU institutions, putting current and former officials under scrutiny and likely leading to calls for an overhaul of institutional oversight.

In Brussels, the revelations were met with shock, but not surprise, with EU observers and experts noting longstanding concerns about the bloc’s institutions, particularly the European Parliament.

“Whatever its ultimate outcome, the Qatar ‘corruption’ scandal has exposed an inconvenient truth that is already obvious to most Europeans. Money buys influence in the EU,” wrote Alberto Alemanno, Jean Monnet Professor of European Union Law at HEC Paris, in an opinion piece for Politico Europe.

“While this is the most egregious case of alleged corruption the European Parliament has seen in many years, it is not an isolated incident,” said Michiel van Hulten, director of Transparency International. EU, in a press release.

The European Parliament “has allowed a culture of impunity to develop”, thanks to lax financial rules and the absence of independent scrutiny of ethics, van Hulten said, adding that members of the European Parliament had blocked attempts to change that. He called on the European Commission to publish its “long-delayed proposal on the creation of an independent European ethics body, with investigative and enforcement powers”.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, has called for the creation of such a body, but the official tasked with doing so has admitted that it is unlikely to have the capacity to investigate or enforce.

On Monday, von der Leyen called the allegations against Kaili “very serious”. Josep Borrell, head of the bloc’s foreign affairs and security branch, said they were “very worrying”.

For now, the scandal is a boon to EU critics, especially leaders like Hungary’s Victor Orban, who regularly castigate the bloc for criticizing democratic shortcomings within EU countries.

Monday morning, Orban’s Twitter account posted a meme which showed a group of men laughing hysterically with the words “And then they said the [European Parliament] is seriously concerned about corruption in Hungary” superimposed.



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