A corruption scandal is rocking the EU Parliament as MEPs gather in Strasbourg on Monday for what promises to be a fiery session. Four out of six people questioned over the weekend as part of a police investigation have been charged.
Greek socialist MEP Eva Kaili, one of those charged, was remanded in custody after Belgian investigators were said to have found "bags of cash" in her home. The police probe is looking into possible influence peddling by Qatar. Doha has denied the accusations.
This affair is "shameful and intolerable" and "very seriously" damages the Parliament's reputation, EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said on Sunday.
"If it were confirmed that someone took money to try to influence the opinion of the European Parliament, it will really be one of the most dramatic stories of corruption in recent years," he added.
Kaili, one of more than a dozen of parliament's vice-presidents, was stripped of her responsibilities following her arrest. She was also responsible for representing parliament President Roberta Metsola in the Middle East.
The Greek politician has also been suspended by the Socialists & Democrats and expelled from the centre-left Pasok party.
Parliamentarians have voiced shock at the arrests which is linked to the detention of family members of a former Italian MEP, who were allegedly offered a holiday worth €100,000 by the Qataris.
On Friday, Belgian police staged 16 raids across Brussels. Around €600,000 in cash was seized, in addition to computer equipment and mobile telephones.
They came amid investigations into suspicions of "substantial" money payments by the Gulf state to influence MEPs.
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.
Tip of the iceberg
Nicholas Aiossa is the Deputy Director, Head of Policy and Advocacy Transparency at International EU and leads the work on EU political integrity. He told Euronews that he is surprised it took so long for the revelation only coming to light now, "given the amount of MEPs that are alleged to be involved in this."
Aiossa went on to say that, "staff members, other stakeholders and some of the drip petty corruption that we've seen amongst MEPs for years now. When it comes to either allowances or other infractions, yes, this could just be the tip of the iceberg."
Qatar has rejected any attempts to associate the accusations of misconduct by MEPs with the Gulf state.
"Any allegation of misconduct on the part of the State of Qatar testifies to serious misinformation," a Qatari government official told AFP on Saturday.
The European Parliament is due to vote this week on a proposal to extend visa-free travel to the EU for Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Ecuador. Some lawmakers have suggested the debate and vote should be postponed.
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