General

Biggest European Parliament graft scandal in decades: Here’s what we know so far

The EU has been shaken by one of the biggest corruption scandals in its history after Eva Kaili, a Greek Member of the European Parliament (MEP), was arrested on Dec. 9 by Belgian police on corruption charges allegedly involving Qatar.

Kaili, 44, from Greece's center-left PASOK-KINAL party, and one of the EP’s 14 vice presidents, was arrested after her home was searched on corruption charges allegedly involving Qatar, which was accused of paying Kaili to lobby for the Gulf state's interests.

She was subsequently removed from the parliament’s vice presidency and dismissed from the PASOK-KINAL party over the allegations following the arrest.

Although Qatar vigorously denies the allegations, so far, four individuals have been arrested and charged with "participation in a criminal organization, money laundering and corruption," according to the prosecutors.

Initially, six people were arrested but Eva Kaili's father Alexandros Kailis, and Luca Visentini, secretary-general of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), were released later.

Also, up to €1.5 million ($1.62 million) in cash have been seized by the Belgian police across dozens of home and office searches. In addition, parliamentary computers have also been requisitioned to prevent the erasure of important data.

Here are the things revealed so far about the scandal since it broke out.

Dec. 9

Kaili was detained by Belgium police after her house was searched. Her father Alexandros was also detained after finding him in possession of a large amount of cash in a suitcase.

Those detained alongside Kaili also included Visentini, as well as Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former S&D MEP from Italy who chaired the parliament’s human rights subcommittee.

Belgian federal prosecutors said police searched 16 properties as part of a wider investigation into "criminal organization, corruption and money laundering."

Kaili has been suspended from the Socialists and Democrats group in the parliament “with immediate effect, in response to the ongoing investigations."

Dec. 10

Belgian police released a photo showing piles of notes that were seized.

According to the prosecutors, cash worth about €600,000 had been found at the home of one suspect, €150,000 at the flat of an MEP and €750,000 in a suitcase in a Brussels hotel room.

Although sources said the €150,000 was found at Kaili's apartment, her lawyer said: "I have no idea if any money was found or how much was found."

Dec. 11

Qatar dismissed the corruption allegations, calling them "baseless and gravely misinformed."

"Qatar categorically rejects any attempts to associate it with accusations of misconduct. Any association of the Qatari government with the reported claims is baseless and gravely misinformed," Doha’s mission to the EU said in a statement.

Also, the office of the Belgian federal prosecutor announced that it had charged four people with corruption and other crimes without naming who they are. It added two people who have been arrested are released without being charged.

Dec. 12

Greek authorities freeze the assets of Kaili, and the authorities also reportedly suspend the "bank accounts, safes, companies and other financial assets" of her relatives.

In addition, the bank accounts of a real estate company in Kolonaki, which was founded by Kaili and her husband, are being frozen.

Meanwhile, the EP announces that it will launch an "internal" investigation over corruption charges, with its head Roberta Metsola saying "there will be no sweeping under the carpet."

Dec. 13

Kaili is dismissed from the EP's vice presidency over allegations of corruption. The decision is approved by 625 votes in favor, 1 against and 2 abstentions.

Dec. 15

Kaili insists she has nothing to do with the money recovered by Belgium police during raids.

Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, Kaili’s lawyer, says that it is not clear to whom a large number of euro banknote stashes found in nine different addresses belong.

Reiterating that some money is also recovered from Kaili’s address, he claims only her partner, Francesco Giorgi knows whose money it is.

On the same day, the European Public Prosecutor's Office requests EP to lift its diplomatic immunity from Kaili and her fellow Greek MEP Maria Spyraki.

Meanwhile, Giorgi has reportedly confessed to being part of an "organization" allegedly used by both Qatar and Morocco with the aim to influence EU policy-making, bringing Morocco to the spotlight.

Dec. 20

Kaili reportedly tells a Brussels judge that it’s "true" that she "knew about Mr. Panzeri's activities."

"I knew about the money suitcases in my house," she is also reported to have said about bags full of cash found at her home when she was arrested.

Dec. 22

A Belgian court decides to extend Kaili’s pre-trial detention by one month.

Her lawyers Andre Rizopoulos and Dimitrakopoulos confirm that they demanded Kaili’s release from prison with an electronic bracelet.

Jan. 2

The head of the EP launches an urgent procedure to waive the immunity of two MEPs implicated in a corruption scandal at the request of Belgian judicial authorities.

"From the very first moment the European Parliament has done everything in its power to assist in investigations and we will continue to make sure that there will be no impunity," Metsola says.

Jan. 5

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita says that the north African country is the target of calculated media attacks and legal harassment aimed at undermining ties with the EU, weeks after Belgian authorities implicated Morocco as part of the corruption scandal.

Jan. 11

Maria Arena, chairwoman of a European parliament human rights committee, resigns after failing to declare trips to Qatar amid the corruption scandal.

"I proclaim loud and clear that I am not implicated in any way in this affair," says Arena, pledging to stand down "until all is clear."

Jan. 16

Upon requests from the Belgian authorities, European lawmakers begin the process of lifting the immunity of socialist members Marc Tarabella from Belgium and Andrea Cozzolino from Italy, who are suspected of wrongdoing

Jan. 17

The detained European lawmaker Panzeri agrees to cooperate with Belgian authorities.

He signs a repentance agreement where he commits to making “substantial, revealing, truthful and complete statements” about the parties involved, and crimes committed in return for a reduced sentence, according to Belgium’s federal prosecutor.

He will inform Belgian authorities about financial arrangements with other involved countries, financial schemes that were set up, including stakeholders and benefits and the involvement of known and unknown individuals in the investigation.

Jan. 18

Marc Angel is elected vice president of the EP, replacing Kaili.

Angel, from Luxembourg, receives an absolute majority of votes in the second round with 307 of 590 valid votes.

Jan. 19

The tax consultant of Panzeri has been reportedly arrested in Milan, Italy, after a request from Belgium through a European warrant.

Source: Anadolu Agency