Authorities raided offices of the European Parliament on Monday as part of an investigation into alleged corruption, Belgian prosecutors said.
The investigation concerns allegations that staff at World Cup host Qatar paid large bribes to European politicians in order to influence the political debate.
A Vice-President of the European Parliament, Eva Kaili, and other lawmakers are implicated in the scandal.
Kaili was arrested on Friday after police allegedly found “sacks of cash” at her home.
The purpose of Monday’s search was “the seizure of data,” Belgian prosecutors said in a statement.
According to their own statements, the investigators also searched private apartments and confiscated several hundred thousand euros.
So far, four people have been arrested and charged with “participation in a criminal organization, money laundering and corruption,” Belgian authorities said.
The President of the European Parliament reacts
The President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, described the scandal on Monday as an “attack” on EU democracy.
“The enemies of democracy, for whom the very existence of this Parliament is a threat, will stop at nothing,” Metsola told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France.
She accused “malicious actors linked to autocratic third countries” and said they “allegedly armed NGOs, trade unions, individuals, assistants and members of the European Parliament to undermine our processes”.
“There will always be those for whom a bag of cash is always worth the risk,” Metsola said.
“What is critical is that these people understand that they will be caught, that our services are working and that they must face the full extent of the law, as they did in this case.”
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen previously said the allegations were “extremely worrying, very serious”.
Greece freezes Kaili’s fortune
Officials in Greece said on Monday they had frozen Kaili’s assets following her arrest by Belgian police on corruption charges.
Kaili, a 44-year-old former TV presenter, was charged with corruption in Brussels on Sunday.
She has publicly spoken out in favor of Qatar’s recent labor market reforms.
The European Parliament said late Saturday that Kaili had been suspended from her duties, specifically from Parliament’s President’s representative, Metsola, in the Middle East.
The Greek socialist PASOK party, of which Kaili is a member, said it would expel her.
How other EU officials have responded to the allegations
The bribery allegations have rocked EU lawmakers, prompting calls to probe the institutions to root out foreign influence.
“Certainly the news is very worrying,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell when he arrived at a meeting of foreign ministers. He added that no officials from the bloc’s diplomatic service or foreign missions were involved.
Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that the “full force of the law” must be used in this case. “This is about Europe’s credibility, so it has to have consequences in different areas,” she said.
Vitor Teixeira, a Senior Policy Officer at Transparency International said investigations so far had shown the scandal was widespread.
“I That means there are a lot of different people in different positions. So it definitely wouldn’t surprise me if more people were involved as the days went by,” he told DW, adding, “We’re living in a very serious situation that’s been unprecedented at least in the last 20 years.”
To the For many years, Teixeira said, Transparency International had said the European Parliament had “substandard integrity and anti-fraud rules.” But “largely we were ignored,” he noted.
fb, rc/rt (AFP, Reuters)