EU mocked as Brussels scrambles to save face over Qatargate

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Prosecutors investigating alleged influence peddling by a Gulf country at the European Parliament charged four people over the weekend with corruption, participation in a criminal group and money laundering. Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili of Greece was relieved of her duties.

The prosecutors declined to identify the country suspected of offering cash or gifts to parliament officials in exchange for political favours. Several members of the assembly and some Belgian media linked the investigation to Qatar, which is currently hosting soccer’s gala event, the World Cup.

Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has denied any wrongdoing.

Police conducted Monday’s raids at European Parliament offices in Brussels to seize computer data belonging to 10 parliamentary assistants, prosecutors said. Officers have conducted 20 raids in total as part of an investigation launched four months ago.

“Several hundred thousand euros have been 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 about 150,000 euros in an apartment belonging to an MEP,” prosecutors said.

Kaili, who was relieved of her duties over the weekend, was expelled Monday from the legislature’s Socialists and Democrats group with immediate effect.

Mocking the EU institution on Twitter, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban posted an image picturing former world leaders laughing with the words “and then they said … The EP is seriously concerned about corruption in Hungary.”

“Good morning to the European Parliament!,” the Hungarian leader added.

The European Parliament has been consistently denouncing Hungary over rule of law issues.

It September, MEPS declared that under Mr Orban’s lead Hungary is “no longer a democracy”.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the accusations against Kaili threatened the confidence EU citizens have put in the 27-nation bloc’s institutions.

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She said the independent ethics body she proposed establishing would cover lobbying activities at the European Commission, the European Council and European Parliament, as well as at the European Central Bank, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Auditors.

The EU does not already have comprehensive lobbying regulations.

“The principles of having such an ethics body where there are very clear rules on what has to be checked, how and when and what has to be published, how and when would be a big step forward,” she said.

As the European Parliament began its last plenary session of the year in Strasbourg, France, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola promised “there will be no sweeping under the carpet.”

She said the Parliament and European democracies were “under attack” by “malign actors, linked to autocratic third countries.”

“We will launch a reform process to see who has access to our premises, how these organisations, NGOs and people are funded, what links with third countries they have,” Metsola added. “We will ask for more transparency on meetings with foreign actors and those linked to them. We will shake up this Parliament and this town, and I need your help to do it.”

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On Friday, police in Belgium’s capital carried out multiple raids as part of the investigation and reported seizing cash, computer equipment and mobile telephones.

The federal prosecutor’s office, without identifying any individual, said four of six people detained that day were subsequently charged, and two were released.

Raids also took place in Italy on Sunday.

Prosecutors have confirmed that a parliament member was arrested but declined to confirm it was Kaili, 44, a former TV news anchor. They said they suspect “the payment of large sums of money, or the offer of significant gifts” to people holding with influential positions at the European Parliament.

Metsola relieved Kaili of her duties over the weekend. Kaili’s party in Greece also suspended her and publicly distanced itself from remarks she made in the EU parliament last month praising Qatar.

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