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Corruption scandal in the European Parliament: what is known about the bribery plot orchestrated by Qatar

For the European Union (EU), the scandal has the scale of a veritable earthquake. In a vast operation launched this Friday by the Belgian Justice, the police carried out more than 15 raids, confiscated nearly 600,000 euros and arrested five people, including a vice president of the European Parliament and one of its former deputies, all suspected of having participated in a gigantic lobbying operation, financed by Qatar to corrupt European democracy.

At the end of an investigation opened in mid-July this year into an alleged criminal organization infiltrated in the heart of Europe, suspected of meddling in EU politics and corruption promoted by Qatar, three public figures were arrested on Friday in Belgium: the Greek Eva Kaili, one of the acting vice-presidents of the European Parliament; the Italian Pier Antonio Panzeri, former deputy of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, and the world leader of the unions, Luca Visentini.

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In full football world cup this potentially explosive scandal appears as the starting point of an investigation that promises to be tentacular. The Belgian federal judicial police carried out 17 raids in various communes of Brussels and on the outskirts of the capital.

The Italians Pier Antonio Panzeri and Luca Visentini.

“Especially in Ixelles, Schaerbeek, Crainhem, Forest and Brussels-city,” the court confirmed. “These raids were carried out within the framework of a vast investigation of alleged acts committed by a criminal, corruption and money-laundering organization,” the source added.

The highly sensitive investigation, coordinated by the federal court, is headed by Judge Michel Claise, a specialist in financial matters. The investigators’ work has been carried out in the greatest secrecy for four months by the Central Office for the Repression of Corruption (OCRC).

Investigators “suspect a Gulf country for try to influence the economic and political decisions of the European Parliament”, confirmed the court. How? “Delivering huge sums of money and making significant gifts to third parties who hold significant political or strategic positions within the Chamber”. The court did not mention Qatar. But numerous well-informed sources indicate that it is, in effect, “of the State organizing the World Cup”.

The former Italian S&D deputy, Pier Antonio Panzeri, the new secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Luca Visentini, as well as an NGO director and a European parliamentary assistant were arrested in the last hours. The raids made it possible to seize more than half a million euros in banknotes. According to information from the Belgian newspaper le soir, the money was discovered in the Brussels residence of former MEP Panzeri. Two members of his family, his wife and his daughter, were also detained in Italy.

The operations also led to the arrest of Eva Kaili. The 44-year-old former Greek television presenter has been an MEP since 2014 and one of the 14 vice-presidents of the European Chamber. FG, the parliamentary assistant of an S&D MEP, also arrested in the last few hours, is her sentimental partner.

The search of the home of the MEP, protected by parliamentary immunity, seems to indicate that she would have been surprised in flagrante delicto, although the Belgian federal court decided not to comment on this latest information. Her Greek party, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), and soon after her group in Parliament, the S&D, announced they had suspended her “with immediate effect.”

Kaili had caused surprise when, in a debate in the Strasbourg Chamber on December 9, he launched statements totally against the grain of Parliament’s position on Qatar.

“The World Cup in Qatar is proof of how sports diplomacy can bring about the historic transformation of a country with reforms that have inspired the Arab world”said.

The detainees

The five detainees, who were still being questioned by investigators this Saturday, should be presented to the judge – who will decide on eventual arrest warrants – in the next 24 hours.

With the exception of Eva Kaili, all the suspects are citizens or of Italian origin and are very active in associations and NGOs in defense of human rights. Although it seems like a bad joke, Panzeri is president of fight impunityan organization that promotes “the fight against impunity for serious human rights violations” and international justice. Its headquarters, located in the heart of Brussels, was raided on Friday morning.

Luca Visentini, for his part, was elected in November as general secretary of the CSI, a confederation of trade unions from around the world, which represents around 200 million workers. Last week, the “super-unionist”, as he is nicknamed by many, had once again evoked the situation of the workers in Qatar, calling on “continue putting pressure on the authorities and employers of the emirate” to improve the conditions of these people.

For Qatar, it would have been a matter of defending “its” soccer World Cup -whose organization garnered so much criticism-, as well as the alleged progress made in the field of human rights and the working conditions of migrants. No embassy of the emirate in Europe had so far responded to requests for reaction from the media.

According to the Belgian court, “the operation was particularly targeted at European parliamentary assistants.” In their offices, the investigators seized computer equipment and telephones: “These elements will be analyzed within the framework of the investigation,” judicial sources affirm.

Among the people affected by the raids are four parliamentary assistants close to the S&D group, including FG, who was arrested. Another attendee is related to the right-wing European People’s Party (EPP) parliamentary group. The investigators were also present at the homes of two councilors and a Parliament official, without counting several directors of lobbies, active in the EU.

All these premises were placed under security strips, to prevent the disappearance of evidence.

For its part, the European Parliament announced its decision “not to comment on the ongoing legal proceedings.”

“As always, Parliament fully cooperates with the competent national authorities. It does so in this specific case as well,” he stated. In turn, the S&D group said it was “appalled by the allegations of corruption.”

The height of irony or a clear political message for those who believe they are above the law, the belgian justice decided to launch the operation on friday, international anti-corruption day.

By Luisa Corradini

Source: Elcomercio

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