Belgium makes EU parliament arrests in Qatar corruption investigation
Officers arrested Greek socialist MEP Eva Kaili.
(AFP) - Belgian police arrested a European Parliament vice-president and four others in connection with an investigation into corruption implicating World Cup hosts Qatar, the prosecutors office said.
Officers arrested Greek socialist MEP Eva Kaili hours after four other suspects had been detained for questioning. All four were either Italian citizens or originally came from Italy, a source close to the case told AFP.
Kaili is the partner of one of the four, a parliamentary assistant with the European Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats group, said the source.
Following reports of Kaili’s arrest, the president of the Greek socialists (PASOK) Nikos Androulakis announced on Twitter that she had been expelled from the party.
A statement issued earlier by Belgian prosecutors mentioned a Gulf country in connection with an investigation into corruption and money laundering, but did not name it. And while it said a former MEP was among those arrested, it did not identify him.
But Belgian press reports said the country concerned was Qatar, and named the former MEP as Italy’s Pier-Antonio Panzeri, who served as a socialist in the parliament between 2004 and 2019.
600,000 euros seized
Belgium’s federal prosecutor announced the earlier arrests after a series of raids at 16 addresses raids in the capital Brussels.
"Today’s searches have enabled investigators to recover about 600,000 euros in cash," the prosecutors said in a statement.
"Computer equipment and mobile phones were also seized. These elements will be analysed as part of the investigations."
Investigators "suspected a Gulf country (of influencing) the economic and political decisions of the European parliament", the statement added.
It alleged this was done "by paying large sums of money or offering large gifts to" influential figures in the European parliament.
A source close to the case confirmed press reports that the investigation was into suspected attempts by Qatar to corrupt an Italian Socialist former MEP, who Belgian outlets Le Soir and Knack named as Panzeri.
‘Recognised and respected’
Kaili, 44, is a former television presenter and currently one of the European Parliament’s 14 vice presidents. In November, shortly before the World Cup started, she met Qatar’s Labour Minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri.
In a video statement posted on Twitter by the Qatar News Agency she said: "I believe the World Cup for Arabs has been a great tool for... political transformation and reforms...".
The European Parliament "recognised and respected" Qatar’s progress in labour reforms, she added.
She made similar comments during a speech at the European Parliament later in November, accusing some MEPs of "bullying" Qatar and accusing them of corruption.
Panzeri, 67, currently heads a Brussels-based human rights organisation called Fight Impunity.
According to the reports, the secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Italian Luca Visentini, was also among those arrested. The ITUC said it was "aware" of the media reports, but had no further comment to make at present.
The alleged bribery comes as World Cup host Qatar has made a major push to improve its image in the face of criticism over its record on worker protections and human rights.
Interviewed by AFP on Monday, Visentini welcomed progress made by Qatar on worker rights, but insisted "pressure" needed to be maintained once the football tournament finishes.
Migrant workers make up more than 2.5 million of Qatar’s 2.9 million population and labour conditions have been strongly criticised -- particularly in the lead-up to the World Cup.
Doha has implemented reforms to its migrant labour system, but critics insist more work needs to be done to make sure the changes have an impact.
Qatar’s World Cup has also been dogged by accusations of corruption surrounding the FIFA members’ vote to award the tournament to the energy-rich Gulf state.
Belgium’s France Soir newspaper pointed out that Friday’s police raids came on the United Nations-designated International Anti-Corruption Day.