“Shocking”, “intolerable”, “incredible”. Words are not lacking to describe the mega-corruption scandal that is currently hitting the European Parliament.
On Sunday, Greek MEP Eva Kaili was imprisoned in Brussels, as part of a Belgian investigation aimed at large payments of money to influence European policy “for the benefit of a Gulf state”. Local media have identified the country in question as Qatar, which is currently hosting the FIFA World Cup.
That Mme Kaili being one of the 14 vice-presidents of the European Parliament makes the case even more spectacular. Moreover, the reactions ranged from amazement to disbelief, Monday, among representatives of the European Union (EU).
But she is not the only one to have been arrested. Three other people are also behind bars for “corruption”, “money laundering” and “belonging to a criminal organization”, including Francesco Giorgi, parliamentary assistant and spouse of Mme Kaili, and two NGO leaders. All are associated with the S&D (Social Democrat) group, which brings together several left-wing parties in the European Parliament.
The suspects had been placed in police custody on Friday evening, after 16 searches carried out by the Belgian police, which made it possible to seize “several hundred thousand euros” in banknotes at Mme Kaili, Mr. Panzeri and in a bag carried by Mr.me Kaili, arrested at the exit of a hotel. The elected official could not benefit from her parliamentary immunity, because the offense of which she is accused was found “in flagrante delicto”, explained a judicial source to Agence France-Presse.
The 44-year-old former TV presenter, however, was suspended from her duties and expelled from the Greek Socialist Party, Pasok-Kinal, of which she was a controversial member, because of her ideological ambivalences.
“At the European level, all of this is huge,” sums up historian Laurent Wartouzet, an EU specialist.
Doha has strongly denied its involvement in the case. “Any allegation of misconduct by the State of Qatar is seriously misinformation,” a Qatari government official said on Saturday.
But suspicion hangs over the small Gulf country, which is still trying to defend its reputation, after being heavily criticized over human and labor rights. While negotiations are underway with the EU regarding the purchase of natural gas and the lifting of the compulsory visa in Europe for its nationals, it is crucial for Qatar to rehabilitate its image. And everything seems to indicate that Eva Kaili played a role in this sense.
On November 22, a few weeks after a visit to Qatar, the Greek MP declared from the podium of the European Parliament that the emirate “is a leader in terms of labor rights”.
Two days later, when Parliament wants to adopt a resolution “deploring the death of thousands of migrant workers in Qatar” (during the construction of stadiums for the World Cup), she leads other members of her parliamentary group to vote against the very principle of its adoption. At the beginning of December, finally, she invites herself to a commission of which she is not an official member, in order to vote in favor of the liberalization of visas for Qataris.
Investigations are yet to continue. Computer equipment and telephones were seized during the searches and must be analyzed by the investigators. But for Denis Saint-Martin, a professor in the field of public policy at the Université de Montréal and an expert in corruption, there is no doubt that this is one more chapter in the saga surrounding the attribution of the World Cup in Qatar.
“We realized that there had been a lot of corruption in this story. American justice has brought charges. French justice has opened an investigation into former President Nicolas Sarkozy. The case concerning Mme Kaili is the last link in a chain of events that begins in 2010”, he summarizes.
This is not the first time that a scandal has touched the heart of the European institutions.
In 1999, the French Commissioner Edith Cresson was accused of fictitious jobs, the case had led to the creation of the European Anti-Fraud Office.
In 2011, Parliament was rocked by another scandal when three MEPs agreed to table amendments to European bills, particularly in the banking sector, in exchange for remuneration.
But the European Union remains limited in its anti-corruption efforts. “The procedures exist, explains Laurent Wartouzet, the problem is that the EU is not a state. Procedures are slow and investigative powers are relatively weak. »
Coincidence? The December 9 raids took place on International Anti-Corruption Day, designated by the UN and recognized by the European Parliament.
With Agence France-Presse