Friday , February 3 2023

MEP denies Qatar bribery after €1.5m seized

14-12-2022

BRUSSELS: Greek MEP Eva Kaili has denied involvement in an alleged bribery scandal involving World Cup host Qatar at the European Parliament.

She is one of four suspects charged, after Belgian investigators found €1.5m (£1.3m) in two homes and a suitcase.

MEPs have voted, by 625 to one, to strip Ms Kaili of her role as one of its 14 vice-presidents.

Parliament leader Roberta Metsola has spoken of “difficult days for European democracy”.

Qatar has denied any wrongdoing.

“(Eva Kaili) declares her innocence and that she has nothing to do with bribery from Qatar,” her lawyer Michalis Dimitrakopoulos told Greek TV on Tuesday.

Prosecutors carried out a string of searches over several days and said cash worth about €600,000 had been found at the home of one suspect, €150,000 at the flat of an MEP and €750,000 in a suitcase in a Brussels hotel room.

Belgian police released a photo on Tuesday showing piles of notes in €200, €50, €20 and €10 denominations.

Asked if money had been found at Ms Kaili’s apartment, her lawyer said: “I have no idea if any money was found or how much was found.”

The suspects arrested by Belgian police have been charged with “participation in a criminal organization, money laundering and corruption”, prosecutors said on Sunday. They will appear before a pre-trial court on Wednesday.

The three others are all thought to be Italians, including Pier Antonio Panzeri, an Italian former MEP who now runs a human rights group.

The allegations have cast a shadow over the role of lobbying groups at the European Parliament. A recommendation to allow visa-free travel to the EU for Qataris was set to be voted on by MEPs this week but has now been shelved.

Searches have taken place in Italy as well as in Brussels. Since Friday, the IT resources of 10 parliamentary employees have been “frozen” to prevent the disappearance of data necessary for the investigation.

Parliament, sitting in Strasbourg, voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to strip Kaili of her role as vice-president.

She has also been suspended from the parliament’s Socialists and Democrats Group and expelled from the Greek centre-left Pasok party.

Greek authorities have frozen assets belonging to her, her husband and immediate family members.

The activities of a property company set up about two weeks ago by the MEP and her husband in Athens have also been frozen.

Six people were detained on Friday as part of the investigation into allegations that Qatar bribed EU officials to win influence. Two were later released.

The three others accused are all Italian citizens. Kaili’s partner Francesco Giorgi, who is a parliamentary assistant, is among those reportedly charged.

Former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, who now runs human rights group Fight Impunity, is also among the four, sources say. His wife and daughter were also reportedly arrested.

The other suspect, according to Italian news agency Ansa, is Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, who runs lobby group No Peace Without Justice. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)

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