EU parliamentary official suspended amid probe into alleged influence peddling
Eva Kaili suspended from duties Saturday
A vice president of the European Union (EU) parliament was suspended from her duties on Saturday after being caught up in an investigation into influence peddling at the EU assembly, allegedly involving officials from a Gulf country.
Eva Kaili, a 44-year-old Greek former TV news anchor, was suspended by her party in Greece and the EU assembly's Socialists and Democrats group Friday after Belgian police staged 16 raids across Brussels. The raids were part of a probe into alleged corruption and money laundering at the parliament.
Four people were detained for questioning, and investigators recovered around 600,000 euros (around $862,500 Cdn) in cash and seized computer equipment and mobile telephones. Prosecutors did not identify the four but at least one was an EU lawmaker and one was a former member.
Authorities have not identified the Gulf country suspected of offering cash or gifts to officials at the parliament in exchange for political favours, but several members have linked the investigation to Qatar.
Parliament President Roberta Metsola "has decided to suspend with immediate effect all powers, duties and tasks that were delegated to Eva Kaili in her capacity as vice president of the European Parliament," Metsola's spokesperson said late Saturday.
The decision was taken "in the light of the ongoing judicial investigations by Belgian authorities," he said, without providing further details.
Green co-president wants inquiry
The co-president of the Greens group, Philippe Lamberts, called for a parliamentary inquiry and for the issue to be put to debate this week, echoing calls from some other political groups.
The Greens "strongly condemn corruption and bribery, cash and precious gifts cannot draw the political lines in this house," Lamberts said in a statement. He added that his group "will vote against visa facilitation for Qatar in this week's plenary vote."
The EU's executive branch, the European Commission, proposed in April that citizens from Qatar be granted short visa-free stays in the 27-nation bloc provided they have a biometric passport. The legislation has been working its way through the assembly.
Kaili's party in Greece, the Socialist Pasok-Movement for Change, publicly distanced itself from remarks she made in the EU parliament last month praising Qatar, which is currently hosting soccer's gala event, the World Cup.
She said the World Cup is "proof, actually, of how sports diplomacy can achieve a historical transformation of a country with reforms that inspired the Arab world." Kaili also repeated what she said is an International Labour Organization view that "Qatar is a front runner in labour rights."
After Friday's raids, Belgian prosecutors said federal judicial police suspect that an undisclosed country in the Gulf region has been trying "to influence the economic and political decisions of the European Parliament."
It said this was allegedly done "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."