BELGIUM: The arrest of Eva Kaili, vice president of the European Union (EU) parliament, and four others in connection with a corruption investigation involving World Cup 2022 hosts Qatar sparked calls on Saturday for “root and branch reform” in the institution.
Transparency International, an organisation that advocates against corruption, stated that “this is not a single instance.”
Director of Transparency International EU, Michiel van Hulten, said, “With a combination of inadequate financial regulations and controls as well as absolutely no independent (or even any) ethics oversight, the Parliament has allowed a culture of impunity to develop over a number of decades.”
The Greens group in the European Parliament demanded a thorough probe into the allegations of Qatari bribery.
The group wrote on Twitter, “We will not accept business as usual…To prevent this from happening again, we must tighten our regulations.”
According to Van Hulten, the European Parliament has “become a law unto itself,” and he added that it is time for fundamental and extensive reform of the institution.
Belgian-based law scholar Alberto Alemanno claimed that the incident “opens many Pandora’s boxes at once,” including the “flawed EU ethics framework for MEPs” and the “magnitude of foreign influence over the EU.”
In the hours following the detention of four other people for questioning, police detained Greek socialist MEP Eva Kaili.
A source with knowledge of the situation said that at least three of them were either Italian citizens or had Italian ancestry.
The source claims that Kaili, 44, is the partner of Francesco Giorgi, one of the four and a legislative assistant for the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament.
Pier-Antonio Panzeri, a former socialist member of the European Parliament from Italy who served in the legislature from 2004 to 2019, was also apparently detained.
A representative for Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office said that all five of the suspects were still being questioned on Saturday and that the inquiry related to possible “corruption” and “money laundering.”
An official source in Rome confirmed that Panzeri’s wife and daughter had indeed been taken into custody.
The arrests followed raids in Brussels that, according to Belgian prosecutors, netted $630,000 in cash. Mobile phones and computers were also seized by the police.
The Brussels residence of Kaili had “many bags full of (cash) notes,” as stated in a Saturday article in the Belgian newspaper L’Echo.
Although the investigating nation was not named by the prosecution, a legal source familiar with the case confirmed that it was Qatar.
Prosecutors had only stated that the state in question was accused of swaying votes in the European Parliament by giving gifts or cash to influential individuals.
Kaili is one of the 14 vice presidents of the European Parliament and a former television host. In November, just before the World Cup, she spoke with Ali bin Samikh Al Marri, Qatar’s labour minister.
According to a video statement that the Qatar news agency shared on Twitter, she claimed that the World Cup for Arabs “has been a tremendous tool for… political transformation and reforms.”
In a subsequent speech to the European Parliament, she said, “Today, the World Cup in Qatar is proof… of how sports diplomacy can affect the historical [sic] transformation of a country.”
According to a spokesperson of the Qatari government, “We are not aware of any details of such an investigation.” Any allegations of impropriety on behalf of the State of Qatar are gravely unfounded, based on the statement.
He said, “The country runs in full compliance with international laws and conventions.”
The European Parliament “stands decisively against corruption,” according to Roberta Metsola, its president.
“We’ll do all in our power to support the administration of justice,” she added.