The Qatargate scandal continues, and the authorities make new discoveries in the worst case of corruption in the history of the European Parliament. Meanwhile, Eva Kaili, one of the main suspects in a money-for-influence corruption investigation at the European Parliament, is no longer under house arrest.
Eva Kaili, released from house arrest
Update May 25, 2023, now 18.24. Eva Kaili was released from house arrest. We recall that this was one of the main suspects in the corruption scandal that rocked the European Parliament.
“The investigation no longer requires her detention,” the DA’s office said in a brief press release, according to Politico.
Kaili’s Belgian lawyer, Sven Mary, told the quoted source that he does not know if there are any more or what conditions remain for Kaili.
“If there are conditions attached to her release, I will file a motion to lift all conditions.”
Kaili was one of the first people detained last December in the Qatargate scandal. Belgian police have launched raids as part of a wide-ranging investigation into whether foreign countries, including Qatar and Morocco, bribed European lawmakers.
After her detention was extended several times, in mid-April she was moved from prison to house arrest with an electronic monitor pending trial.
By removing the electronic tag, Kaili will be able to move freely and join other former Qatargate detainees – such as Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella. He too was recently lifted from court-ordered monitoring and was seen again in the European Parliament this week, where he attended a committee.
Kaili’s lawyers have previously said they will seek to have the bracelet withdrawn so she can resume her duties as an MP – although she is not affiliated with any political group.
The latest developments in the Qatargate scandal: Marc Tarabella, arrested
Update February 10, 2023, 4:45 p.m. Belgian authorities on Friday arrested MEP Marc Tarabella, who had already been expelled from his Socialist party, as part of an investigation into alleged corruption in the European Parliament.
A spokesman for the Belgian prosecutor confirmed the arrest after an earlier report by Flemish broadcaster VRT.
In a later press release, the prosecutor also confirmed that various raids had taken place on Friday morning. A safe deposit box belonging to Tarabella at a bank in Liège was searched, as well as several offices in the Walloon town of Anthisnes, where Tarabella is still mayor.
The European Parliament lifted immunity for both Tarabella and fellow MEP Andrea Cozzolino in a plenary session last Thursday, paving the way for Belgian investigators to question them. Three other suspects are in jail.
The prosecutor did not comment on what charges may be brought against Tarabella or whether there is any police action against Cozzolino, who is Italian.
Delphine Collard, Deputy Spokesperson for the European Parliament, said:
“We never comment on ongoing legal proceedings. Parliament always fully cooperates with the authorities.”
The corruption scandal has damaged the reputation and credibility of the European Parliament
Update February 7, 2023, 5:45 p.m. The Qatargate scandal has damaged the reputation and credibility of the house of European democracy, as it is the only EU institution where members are elected by citizens, Swedish MEP Abir al-Sahlani, a member of the European Parliament, told Euractiv.
In December 2022, reports emerged that Qatari officials paid bribes to top European politicians to gain favors and influence in Brussels.
With several top EU politicians under investigation or arrested, the scandal is set to be one of the biggest to rock European institutions.
“Qatargate has undoubtedly damaged the reputation and credibility of the only home of democracy. The European Parliament is the only EU institution directly elected by our citizens. So this was very damaging,” al-Sahlani said.
However, al-Sahlani sees it as positive that a spotlight is being cast on the previously stalled talks on an EU ethics body and hopes that the groundwork will be laid for “what can be done when it comes it’s about preventing corruption within the European Parliament”.
The EU Parliament already has a code of conduct. “We know what is a crime and what is not. However, there is no enforcement,” al-Sahlani said.
The ethics monitoring body in the EP, promised but not delivered
In 2019, a proposal to create an ethics monitoring body in Parliament was tabled by the European Commission, but “there was no delivery,” the Swedish MEP said.
Then, in 2021, Parliament passed a resolution that again called for the creation of an EU ethics body to enforce the existing code of conduct and prosecute cases of corruption.
But the issue was largely ignored by the European Commission until Quatargate: a few days after the scandal, the head of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, called for the creation of an EU Ethics Body with “not only strong rules, but the same rules that cover all EU institutions and allow no exceptions”.
According to the Renew Europe MEP, it could “effectively apply the Code of Moral Conduct that we have”.
The EU ethics body should be composed of nine independent personalities appointed by the Commission and Parliament, as well as the Ombudsman and the EU Court of Justice, Al-Sahlani explained.
“What we wanted it to actually have two major tasks: One is to propose concrete measures on how to prevent a violation, but also what to do if a violation is discovered.
And within 20 days, if no action has been taken, then the case should be handed over to the law enforcement authority,” said the MEP.
“And the second is to protect whistleblowers” and guarantee their safety, she added.
Developments in the Qatargate scandal
Update February 2, 1:34 p.m. The European Parliament on Thursday lifted the immunity of two lawmakers targeted by a Belgian investigation into suspected bribery linked to Qatar and Morocco.
The vote to strip Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella and Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino of immunity from prosecution came at the request of Belgian authorities, who have four people in custody as part of their investigation.
Tarabella attended the parliamentary session and voted in favor of lifting his immunity.
He told reporters afterwards: “I am happy that my parliamentary immunity has been lifted. I remind you that I am innocent in this matter.”
He said he looked forward to “justice taking its course.”
Cozzolino has also previously pleaded not guilty, while Qatar and Morocco deny any wrongdoing in the case.
The lifting of parliamentary immunity opens the way for Belgian investigators to question the two MEPs in order to continue the investigation.
As part of the Belgian investigation into bribery, money laundering and organized crime, in December 2022 the police carried out several searches at several addresses, including those of MEPs, former MEPs and parliamentary advisers in the European Parliament, after which they discovered 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million in cash).
Among those detained and indicted is the Greek MEP Eva Kaili, who was one of the 14 vice-presidents of the Parliament, but who has since been deprived of this position.
The other three are her boyfriend, Francesco Giorgi, who was a parliamentary adviser, former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, who founded an NGO dealing with parliament, and Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, head of another NGO at the same address as Panzeri’s . The three are Italian.
Belgium suspects them of involvement in a bribery scheme in which Qatar and Morocco allegedly distributed money through NGOs to influence the decisions of the European Parliament.
The accusations strongly shook the legislature and cast a shadow over other European institutions in Brussels.
Pier Antonio Panzeri made a deal with Belgian justice
Pier Antonio Panzeri, the alleged mastermind of the Qatargate scandal, should give Belgian justice new names of European parliamentarians from Germany, France and Italy, the lawyer of jailed Greek MEP Eva Kaili said.
“There are messages and news that he will give MEPs from Germany, France, Italy and Belgium. As for the people in Greece, I cannot rule anything out, especially since it is a pre-election period,” lawyer Michalis Dimitrakopoulos said in an interview with Kontra TV.
Panzeri made a deal with Belgian justice to talk and describe the details of the scandal in exchange for a lighter sentence. On Tuesday, Panzeri will testify for the first time after the deal with Belgian authorities was sealed.
But for Dimitrakopoulos, Panzeri made a risky move.
“They told him he would be in jail for a year, but he would give them the names they wanted,” he said, implying that Panzeri was being politically manipulated.
“Now he is completely untrustworthy and all he cares about is saving his wife and daughter and whatever they give him, he will sign,” the Greek lawyer added.
Dimitrakopoulos also predicted that the deal Panzeri made with the Belgian authorities would “collapse” at some point because “there will be strong reactions from the people Panzeri will indict.”
He said that two Belgian MEPs are already against him and he expects them to reveal things against Panzeri that he himself has hidden so far. “So the deal will fall apart in that case,” he said.
What does understanding mean?
A source close to the case told Euractiv that according to the deal, Panzeri must tell the whole truth to the Belgian judicial authorities and hide nothing. If he does not, he is not only “breaking the deal” but will also be charged with “perverting the course of justice”.
Referring to Eva Kaili’s speech in the European Parliament, in which she praised Qatar for progress on labor rights, Dimitrakopoulos said there was a misunderstanding.
Kaili had said that Qatar is a “leader in labor rights”.
“Today’s World Cup proves how sports diplomacy can achieve a historic transformation of a country with reforms that have inspired the Arab world. The ILO has said that Qatar is a leader in terms of labor rights,” she said.
According to Dimitrakopoulos, Kaili only included a quote from the ILO in his speech and compared progress on labor rights in Qatar to that of other Gulf countries.
“She just pointed out Qatar’s progress on labor rights compared to Kuwait […] and with the favorite country of some MEPs… Saudi Arabia”.
“Do you know what is happening to labor rights in Saudi Arabia? Did any MEP, now crucifying Kaili, come out and compare Saudi Arabia to Qatar? The interests and lobbies are huge,” Dimitrakopoulos concluded.
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