- Kaili was one of four people arrested in Belgium
- The Greek politician’s lawyer says he denies the crime
- Police discovered cash during the raids, some in suitcases at hotels
- The role of the European Parliament as the moral compass of the bloc is at risk
STRASBOURG, Dec 13 (Reuters) – The European Parliament on Tuesday removed Greek MEP Eva Kaili as vice-president of the assembly after she was accused of accepting bribes from Qatar in one of the biggest corruption scandals to hit Brussels.
Kaili has denied any wrongdoing, but European lawmakers have moved quickly to isolate her, fearing the Belgian probe would severely dent the assembly’s efforts to present itself as a solid moral compass in a troubled world.
“There will be no sweeping under the rug. Our internal investigation will look into what happened and how our systems can be made more waterproof,” said European Parliament president Roberta Metsola as 625 MEPs voted to strip Kaili of her role as vice-president, with only one vote against and two abstentions.
Kaili, who is being held by the police, was one of 14 deputy speakers of parliament.
Belgian prosecutors charged her and three Italians over the weekend with participation in a criminal organization, money laundering and corruption.
A source close to the investigation said they were believed to have pocketed money from Qatar, which hosts the World Cup. The Gulf state has denied any wrongdoing.
Police raided several buildings in Brussels, including parliament offices and 19 homes, uncovering about 1.5 million euros ($1.58 million), some of it hidden in a suitcase in a hotel room, said a source close to the investigation.
Kaili’s lawyer in Greece, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, said on Tuesday that she was innocent. “He has nothing to do with Qatar’s funding, nothing, explicitly and unequivocally,” he told Open TV in an initial public comment.
However, several MEPs have called for the 44-year-old socialist politician to resign from the assembly altogether.
“Given the scale of the corruption scandal, that is the least that can be expected of her,” said MEP Manon Aubry, co-chair of the left group.
Countries that have faced criticism from the assembly said they have lost their moral high ground.
“From now on, the European Parliament will not be able to credibly talk 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. While no state was publicly named by prosecutors, a source familiar with the case said it was Qatar.
None of the four accused people were formally identified, but their names were quickly released to the press.
According to a source close to the case, the other defendants are former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, Kaili’s partner Francesco Giorgi, who is a parliamentary assistant, and Niccolò Figa-Talamanca, general secretary of a group of human rights activists.
There were no responses to calls and emails made by Reuters to their offices or homes.
Kaili was among a stable of young aspiring Greek politicians who emerged in the debilitating debt crisis that engulfed Greece from 2010 to 2015. Greek socialist party PASOK has said it will oust her from its ranks.
In a speech to the European Parliament on Nov. 21, at the start of the month-long World Cup, she railed against Qatar’s detractors and hailed the energy-rich Gulf state as “a frontrunner in workers’ rights”.
Qatar has faced fierce criticism over its human rights record in the run-up to the World Cup, including its treatment of migrant workers.
Additional mentions by Phil Blenkinsop, Karolina Tagaris, Clement Rossignol, Max Schwarz, Lefteris Papadimas, Michele Kambas, Alan Charlish, Giselda Vagnoni; Written by Ingrid Melander; Edited by Edmund Blair and Crispian Balmer
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