EU chief calls for harmonized ethics rules in scandal
Prosecutors declined to identify the country suspected of offering money or gifts to parliament officials in exchange for political favors. Several members of the assembly and some Belgian media linked the investigation to Qatar, which currently hosts the football gala, the World Cup.
Qatar’s foreign ministry has denied any wrongdoing.
Police raided the offices of the European Parliament in Brussels on Monday to seize computer data belonging to 10 parliamentary aides, prosecutors said. Officers carried out a total of 20 raids as part of an investigation launched four months ago.
“Several hundred thousand euros were seized in three different places: 600,000 euros at the home of one of the suspects, several hundred thousand euros in a suitcase seized in a room of a Brussels hotel, and around 150,000 euros in an apartment owned by an MEP,” prosecutors said.
Deputy Speaker of the Greek Parliament Eva Kaili, who was relieved of her duties over the weekend, was expelled from the Socialists and Democrats group in the legislature on Monday with immediate effect.
Belgian authorities said a Gulf country was suspected of offering money or gifts to parliamentary officials in exchange for political favors. Prosecutors declined to identify the country, but several assembly members and some Belgian media linked the investigation to Qatar, which currently hosts the football gala, the World Cup.
Qatar’s foreign ministry has denied any wrongdoing.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the EU’s chief executive, said the charges against Kaili threatened the trust European citizens have in the institutions of the 27-nation bloc.
She said the independent ethics body she proposed would cover lobbying activities with the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament, as well as the European Central Bank, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Auditors.
The EU does not yet have comprehensive lobbying regulations.
“The principles of having such an ethics body where there are very clear rules of what needs to be audited, how and when and what needs to be published, how and when would be a big step forward,” he said. she declared.
As the European Parliament began its final plenary session of the year in Strasbourg, France, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola promised “there will be no sweeping under the rug”.
“We are going to launch a reform process to see who has access to our premises, how these organisations, NGOs and people are financed, what links they have with third countries. We will ask for more transparency on meetings with foreign actors and those related to them,” Metsola said. “We are going to shake this Parliament and this city, and I need your help to do so.”
On Friday, police in the Belgian capital carried out several raids as part of the four-month investigation and reported seizing cash, computer equipment and mobile phones.
The federal prosecutor’s office, without identifying anyone, said four of the six people detained that day were later charged and two were released.
Raids also took place in Italy on Sunday.
Prosecutors confirmed that a member of parliament had been arrested but declined to confirm it was Kaili, 44, a former television news presenter. They said they suspected “the payment of large sums of money, or the giving of large gifts” to people in influential positions in the European Parliament.
Metsola relieved Kaili of his duties over the weekend. Kaili’s party in Greece also suspended her and publicly distanced herself from remarks she made in the European Parliament last month praising Qatar,
Qatar has come under heavy international pressure to introduce labor reforms in recent years as it sought to build new World Cup stadiums in record time, often using migrant workers who worked long hours in difficult conditions.
The EU and Qatar have strengthened their economic relations since the start of the Russian war in Ukraine. Moscow has cut supplies of natural gas used to heat homes, generate electricity and generate electricity in Europe in response to EU sanctions, deepening an energy crisis that is fueling inflation.
The EU has been looking for alternatives to buy long-term liquefied natural gas, especially in Qatar.
In April, the European Commission proposed to lift visa requirements for short stays in the EU for Qatari nationals. Metsola said negotiations with parliament on the proposal would be postponed.
“I was due to announce today the opening of the negotiation mandate for the visa waiver report with Qatar and Kuwait,” she said. “In the light of the investigations, this report must be referred to committee.”
When asked if Belgian authorities were in contact with the European Commission as part of their investigation, von der Leyen said she had no idea. She added that the commission was reviewing its own register of political transparency.
“If new information comes out, we will have to act and react to that,” she said.
Several Socialist and Democrat lawmakers fell on their swords after the group said any member under investigation should be suspended or have to give up some of their duties if any of its staff members do so. subject of an investigation.
The Belgian European legislator Marc Tarabella suspended himself purely and simply. His compatriot, Maria Arena, resigned from the chairmanship of the Assembly’s human rights committee
“Following the revelations of suspicions of corruption linked to Qatar and the European Parliament, and the search for one of my assistants in connection with this matter, I have decided that I will temporarily no longer chair the meetings of the Human Rights Committee of man,” Arena tweeted.
Italian S&D lawmaker Pietro Bartolo has also temporarily stepped down as shadow rapporteur for the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee. Another Italian member of the European Parliament, Andrea Cozzolino, has temporarily stopped performing certain tasks.
Lorne Cook and Raf Casert in Brussels; Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed to this story.