The credibility of the European Parliament is at stake over Qatar’s graft probe, the EU ministers say, in light of allegations the Persian Gulf peninsular country, currently hosting the FIFA World Cup, lavished cash and gifts on the parliament’s officials to influence decision-making.
Greece on Monday froze assets of the key suspect in the case, 44-year-old Eva Kaili, a European Parliament vice-president and Greek socialist Member of European Parliament (MEP), after Belgian prosecutors charged her with corruption. Greek authorities also froze the assets of Kaili’s relatives.
Three associates of the parliament's vice president were also charged after bags of cash were found in Kaili’s home shortly after she returned from an official visit to Qatar. A second MEP's house has been searched.
As part of the investigation, Belgian prosecutors searched 16 houses and seized 600,000 euros ($631,800) in the capital Brussels on Friday, when Kaili was arrested.
“The allegations against the vice president of the European Parliament are of utmost concern, very serious,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday. “It is a question of confidence of people into our institutions, and this confidence and trust into our institutions needs higher standards.”
For her part, Manon Aubry, head of the Left group, called on Kaili to step down and urged setting up a commission of investigation into what Aubry described as the parliament's “failures” in the affair.
German Green MEP Daniel Freund also said, "This will be a good week to fight corruption!"
"If the evidence is proven, this case is an insult. An insult to citizens, an insult to Europeans. An insult to democracy. An insult to Europe," said French socialist Aurore Lalucq.
Kaili is also a former television presenter. In November, just prior to the World Cup, she met Qatar's Labor Minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri.
In a video statement posted on Twitter by the Qatar News Agency, she said, “I believe the World Cup for Arabs has been a great tool for... political transformation and reforms.”
In Athens on Friday, the president of the Greek socialists (PASOK) Nikos Androulakis announced on Twitter that Kaili had been expelled from the party.
Kaili has been stripped of her responsibilities as a vice president of the European Parliament.
“This is really an unbelievable incident that must now be cleared up, without ifs and buts, with the full force of the law,” said German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. “Because this is also especially about Europe's credibility and consequences must follow.”
Reacting to the reports, an unnamed Qatari government official, told AFP, "We are not aware of any details of an investigation. Any claims of misconduct by the State of Qatar are gravely misinformed." The country "operates in full compliance with international laws and regulations," he added.
Doha has “categorically” denied any wrongdoing.
The small Persian Gulf country had been hoping its diplomatic outreach, and the glow of hosting the World Cup, would obtain EU visa facilitations for its people.