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EU bribery scandal: MEP rejects Qatar bribes as more than €1 million is confiscated

Greek MEP Eva Kaili denies involvement in a European Parliament EU bribery scam involving World Cup host Qatar.

Belgian investigators found substantial amounts of money and a suitcase at the homes and charged four individuals, including him. 

By 625 to one, MEPs removed Ms. Kaili as one of its 14 vice presidents.

“Difficult days for European democracy,” says Parliament leader Roberta Metsola.

Qatar denies wrongdoing.

On Tuesday, Eva Kaili’s lawyer Michalis Dimitrakopoulos informed Greek TV that she was innocent of Qatari EU bribery.

Prosecutors conducted a series of searches for several days and reported that around €600,000 ($632,000; £515,000) in cash was discovered at the residence of one suspect, and €150,000 at the apartment Several hundred thousand euros were found in a bag in a hotel room in Brussels, along with an MEP.

Additionally, computers and mobile phones were stolen.

In Ms. Kaili’s apartment, her attorney stated, “I have no idea if any money was retrieved or how much was found.”

Prosecutors charged Belgian police suspects with “membership in a criminal organization, money laundering, and corruption” on Sunday. Wednesday is their pre-trial court appearance.

Three others are Italians, including former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, who runs a human rights organization.

The charges have placed doubt on European Parliament lobbying groups. MEPs postponed a vote on allowing Qataris visa-free entry to the EU this week.

Italy and Brussels searched. To protect investigative material, 10 legislative employees’ IT resources have been “frozen” since Friday.

An overwhelming majority of the Strasbourg-based parliament approved Tuesday’s revocation of Ms. Kaili’s vice presidency.

She has also been expelled from the Socialists and Democrats party in parliament as well as the Greek Pasok center-left party.

Assets that belong to her, her husband, and her immediate family have been frozen by Greek authorities.

Additionally, the MEP and her husband’s recently established property company in Athens have ceased activities.

Six people were detained on Friday as part of the investigation into claims that Qatar bribed EU officials to gain influence. Later, two were released.

All three new suspects are Italian citizens. One of those indicted is Ms. Kaili’s partner, parliamentary assistant Francesco Giorgi.

According to sources, former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, who currently leads the human rights organization Fight Impunity, is also one of the four. His wife and daughter reportedly joined him while being held.

No Peace Without Justice lobbyist Niccolò Figa-Talamanca is the other suspect, according to Ansa.

Luca Visentini, International Trade Union Confederation general secretary, was questioned and released. He afterward maintained he answered all questions.

According to BBC Brussels journalist Jessica Parker, the information made public by Belgian officials over the past few days left many in the EU community speechless.

Speaking to our correspondent, MEPs expressed their disbelief at the claims’ scope and bluntness

The European Commission’s chief, Ursula von der Leyen, called the allegations “very serious” and requested a new ethical authority to police the union.

The MEPs were given a guarantee by Ms. Metsola that the integrity of the legislature will be restored.

She said that “both the democracy of Europe and our free and democratic society are under attack.”

According to watchdogs and MEPs, the EU bribery investigation may be one of the worst corruption scandals in the history of the parliament.

According to prosecutors, a Gulf state has been meddling in the political and economic decisions of the parliament for several months, particularly by targeting aides.

Local media named Qatar, but the Qatari government called such charges “gravely false.”

The Middle East was one of Ms. Kaili’s vice-presidential responsibilities. She has previously defended Qatar.

Green MEP Daniel Freund, who chairs a cross-party anti-corruption group, told the BBC that Parliament had “pretty good lobby transparency laws” but omitted third countries like Qatar: “These third countries should be on the lobby registry.”

Only the European Parliament is directly elected. 705 EU parliamentarians, chosen by voters in the 27 EU nations, debate and pass European law.

The parliament says MEPs are immune from prosecution unless “a member is detected in the act of committing an offense”.

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