European Parliament kicks out VP Kaili over Qatar transplant scandal

  • Kaili was one of four people arrested in Belgium
  • The Greek politician’s lawyer says she denies wrongdoing
  • During raids, the police discovered cash, some of it in the suitcase in the hotel
  • The role of the European Parliament as the bloc’s moral compass is in jeopardy

STRASBOURG, December 13 (Reuters) – The European Parliament on Tuesday ousted Greek MEP Eva Kaili as the assembly’s vice-president after she was accused of accepting bribes from Qatar in one of the biggest bribery scandals in Brussels.

Kaili has denied any wrongdoing, but European lawmakers acted quickly to isolate her, fearing the Belgian probe will severely hamper the assembly’s efforts to present itself as a solid moral compass in a troubled world.

“It’s not being swept under the rug. Our internal investigation will look into what happened and how our systems can be made more watertight,” said European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, as 625 MPs voted to strip Kaili of her role as vice-president, one against and two abstentions.

Kaili, who is in police custody, was one of 14 Vice Presidents in Parliament.

Belgian prosecutors charged her and three Italians over the weekend with involvement in a criminal organization, money laundering and corruption.

A source close to the investigation said they are believed to have pocketed money from World Cup hosts Qatar. The Gulf state has denied any wrongdoing.

Police have searched numerous buildings in Brussels, including parliament offices and 19 apartments, and uncovered around 1.5 million euros ($1.58 million), some hidden in a suitcase in a hotel room, a source said in the close to the investigation.

Kaili’s lawyer in Greece, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, said Tuesday she was innocent. “It has nothing to do with Qatari funding, nothing, explicitly and unequivocally,” he told Open TV in a first public comment.

Nevertheless, several MPs called on the 44-year-old socialist politician to leave the assembly altogether.

“Given the scale of the corruption scandal, that’s the least we can expect from her,” said Left MEP Manon Aubry.

Ali bin Samikh Al Marri, Minister of Labor of Qatar, speaks with Greek Vice-President of the European Parliament Eva Kaili during a meeting in Qatar October 31, 2022 in this social media handout image. Twitter/Ministry of Labor – State of Qatar via REUTERS

CORRUPTION

Countries criticized by the assembly said they had lost moral superiority.

“From now on, the European Parliament will no longer be able to speak credibly about corruption,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto wrote on Facebook.

Belgian prosecutors said they had suspected for more than four months that a Gulf state was trying to buy influence in Brussels. Although no state has been publicly named by prosecutors, a source with knowledge of the case said it was Qatar.

None of the four accused were officially identified, but their names were quickly leaked to the press.

According to a source familiar with the case, the other defendants are former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, Kaili’s partner Francesco Giorgi, a parliamentary assistant, and Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, secretary-general of a human rights campaign.

There were no responses to calls and emails from Reuters to their respective offices or homes.

Kaili was among a group of young aspiring Greek politicians who emerged from the crippling debt crisis that gripped Greece from 2010-2015. The Greek socialist PASOK party has announced that it will expel her from its ranks.

In a speech in the European Parliament on November 21, at the start of the month-long World Cup, she slammed Qatar’s critics and hailed the energy-rich Gulf state as a “pioneer on labor rights.”

Qatar faced heavy criticism in the run-up to the World Cup over its human rights record, including its treatment of migrant workers.

Additional reporting by Phil Blenkinsop, Karolina Tagaris, Clement Rossignol, Max Schwarz, Lefteris Papadimas, Michele Kambas, Alan Charlish, Giselda Vagnoni; writing by Ingrid Melander; Edited by Edmund Blair and Crispian Balmer

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