Four people have been charged in connection with an anti-corruption investigation into the European Parliament that has sent shockwaves through Brussels. Click here for Monday's latest developments on this story.
European Parliament Vice-President Eva Kaili and three others were charged and imprisoned on Sunday in Belgium, amid a police probe into alleged corruption linked with Qatar.
Six people have been arrested since Friday in Brussels after investigators made multiple raids based on suspicions of "substantial" money payments by the Gulf state to influence MEPs.
Kaili -- a Greek Socialist MEP and one of 14 vice presidents at the European legislative body -- was charged with "corruption". She has been suspended from her party and sanctioned, being withdrawn from duties, such as representing the head of the parliament in the Middle East.
The Belgian federal prosecutor's office did not name the country, but a source close to the issue confirmed to AFP that it was Qatar, which other media outlets have also reported.
"This is not an isolated incident," said Transparency International. "For several decades, [the European] Parliament has allowed a culture of impunity to develop ... and a total absence of independent ethical control".
The other three individuals who have been charged remain unnamed. But AP reported at their number includes one EU lawmaker and a former member.
A spokesperson for Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, announced on Saturday evening: "In the light of the ongoing judicial investigations carried out by the Belgian authorities, President Metsola has decided to suspend with immediate effect all the powers, duties and tasks that have been delegated to Eva Kaili in her capacity as Vice-President of the European Parliament."
Earlier in the day, she said the EU legislator "stands firmly against corruption" and that "we'll do all we can to assist the course of justice."
The allegations come at a sensitive time for Qatar as it hosts the World Cup. The Gulf State has already had to battle against claims around alleged human rights abuses of migrant workers and the LGBT+ community.
"Any allegation of misconduct on the part of the State of Qatar testifies to serious misinformation," a Qatari government official told AFP on Saturday.
Hearings of the suspects were ongoing in Brussels over the weekend, according to a spokesperson for the federal prosecutor's office. Two of the six arrested have been released.
Prosecutors said the investigation by Belgian judge Michel Claise is looking into "corruption" and "money laundering" within an organised gang.
Kaili -- formerly a news anchor -- was suspended from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament "with immediate effect" on Friday, according to a statement shared by the group.
On Saturday the Belgian newspaper L'Echo claimed that "several bags full of banknotes" were discovered at her Brussels home. Police searched Kaili's house after allegedly finding her father in possession of a large amount of cash in "a suitcase".
In November, the EU lawmaker went to Qatar where she welcomed "reforms" in the Gulf State.
"Qatar is a leader in terms of labour rights," she said afterwards at the podium of the European Parliament, sparking a fierce backlash from other MEPs.
An additional house search of another socialist MEP, Belgian Marc Tarabella, took place Saturday evening.
The EU legislator will open on Monday in what promises to be a fiery session. French socialists have lambasted the "very serious scandal", with MEP Manon Aubry demanding a debate on the issue and criticising "aggressive lobbying" by Qatar.
European Parliament sources told Euronews that Kaili's office had been sealed by Belgium police on Friday, along with those of two Belgian socialist MEPs, Maria Arena and Marc Tarabella.
Arena denied any involvement, stating that the investigation involved her assistant instead.
"The seals were put because she worked for the NGO Fight Impunity, I believe, in 2019," Arena told Le Soir. "It has nothing to do with the fact that she is my assistant."
Media outlets in Greece and Belgium reported that one of those arrested is Kaili's partner.
The Greek socialist party PASOK, of which Kaili is a member, announced on Friday evening that she was "expelled" from its membership.
Belgium's Federal Prosecutor's Office said it recovered €600,000 in cash and seized computers and mobile phones in Friday's swoop.
"For several months, investigators of the Federal Judicial Police have suspected a Gulf country to influence the economic and political decisions of the European Parliament, this is done so by paying large sums of money or offering large gifts to third parties with a significant political and/or strategic position within the European Parliament," it said.
The beneficiaries are personalities with "a significant political and/or strategic position" in the European Parliament, added the prosecutor's office.
At least three of those arrested are all believed to be Italian citizens: director of No Peace Without Justice NGO Niccolò Figà-Talamanca; trade union leader Luca Visentini; the former S&D MEP Pier-Antonio Panzeri; and parliamentary assistant in the S&D group and Kaili's partner, Francesco Giorgi, according to Italian news agency ANSA.
Kaili, 44, has been an MEP since 2014.
Contacted by Euronews, the European Parliament's press services said that "the European Parliament does not comment on judicial proceedings".
"As always, the European Parliament fully cooperates with the national authorities in charge. The same in this specific case," they added.
The centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the largest in the hemicycle, said that "no stone should be left unturned" in the ongoing investigation.
"There is no place for corruption anywhere in the EU. The authorities have our full support," the group said.
The Greens MEP from Germany, Anna Cavazzini, shared her surprise about Kaili's arrest on Twitter.
"This is quite shocking if suspicions come true," Cavazzini tweeted. "I heard her very pro-Qatar speech (at the) plenary and was extremely surprised about it."