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Corruption in Europe - Qatar's influence over the European Parliament

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

By Anaïs Penin

Qatar would have offered "large sums of money" and "substantial gifts" to current and former European Parliament (EP) officials to try to influence the EU decision-making process. According to the NGO Transparency International, this scandal is “the most blatant case of alleged corruption that the European Parliament has seen in many years”.

© The New-York Times

On Friday 9th December, after revelations from two Belgian newspapers, Knack and Le Soir, the Belgian Federal Prosecutor's Office confirmed that the central office for the repression of corruption was investigating at the European Parliament for six months. Since Friday, six people were arrested in Brussels. Only four of them were charged on December 11 by a Belgian judge after being suspected of money laundering, taking part in a criminal organization, and corruption.

1. Who are the main suspects?

Most of the suspects are current or former members or staff of the European Parliament. The people charged are Eva Kaili (the main suspect), a Greek socialist and one of the 14 European Parliament’s vice presidents; her husband Francesco Giorgi, a parliamentary assistant; Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, the head of the NGO No Peace Without Justice; and the Italian social democrat Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former member of the European Parliament and president of the Brussels-based NGO Fight Impunity.

2. What happened?

As part of an anti-corruption investigation in the European Parliament, four people have been accused of accepting money allegedly offered by Qatar (and Morocco) to influence political decisions among members of the European Parliament. According to Belgian prosecutors, « 600.000€ {was seized} at the home of a suspect, several hundred thousand euros in a suitcase in a Brussels hotel room and about 150.000 euros in a home belonging to a Member of the European Parliament ». The flat where they found 150.000 euros was Kaili’s home, and the person transporting the suitcase was her father.

The Belgium Federal Police's post after a search in the area of Brussels © Twitter - Police Fédérale

Mrs. Kaili has been in a Belgian prison since Friday, and her partner pleaded guilty on the 15th of December. According to Belgian media, he would have confessed his involvement in the affair of corruption of some MEP (Member of the European Parliament).

Eva Kaili has been suspended from her political group in the European Parliament, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), as well as excluded from her political party in Greece the center-left Pasok-Movement for Change.

Furthermore, since Tuesday, December 15, there is a new suspicion against Mrs. Kaili. The former MEP is suspected of cheating with the remuneration of her assistants in Parliament. Her position as vice president gives her access to parliamentary impunity, but she was caught red-handed in the corruption affair with Qatar and Morocco and was therefore directly arrested. On the other hand, regarding the new case in which she allegedly cheated on the salaries of her staff, she enjoys parliamentary impunity. However, The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) asked to lift the parliamentary impunity so she can be prosecuted and brought to trial.

3. What have the suspects been saying about Qatar over the last few months?

Most of the accused people have spoken highly of Qatar in their speeches, yet the emirate has been accused by the International Community of repeatedly harming the LGBT+ community and human rights during the construction of its World Cup stadiums.

In one of her last speeches on 21 November 2022, Eva Kaili said: “ The World Cup in Qatar is proof, actually, of how sports diplomacy can achieve a historical transformation of a country with reforms that inspired the Arab world “. Furthermore, when other members of the European Parliament wanted to denounce Qatar's human rights violations, she objected to them saying that “Qatar is a frontrunner in labor rights” and stating that “they are peace negotiators”, and” good neighbors and partners “.

Qatar is denying its involvement in the affair and trying to protect its image, as the Qatar Mission to the European Union tweeted on Sunday 11 December.

Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affair Statement © Twitter - Qatar Mission to the European Parliament

Since the 14th of December, it is not only Qatar that is targeted in this affair, but also Morocco, which is allegedly involved in the corruption of the European Parliament. Some of the arrested persons are said to have been in contact with Morocco (it is assumed that Panzeri, Giorgi, and Cozzolino spoke with the DGED {a military organization dependent on the Moroccan king} and the Moroccan ambassador to Poland).

4. Why did Qatar and Morocco influence the MEPs?

This political incident comes at a bad time for Qatar, which is hosting the World Cup, as the Gulf state has already been accused recently by the international community of abusing the LGBT+ community, and of not respecting human rights in the abuse of its migrant workers in the construction of its football stadiums. By paying members of the European Parliament, Qatar hopes to improve its image within the European Union and avoid the consequences of its actions. Morocco would have tried to influence the Members of the European Parliament to highlight the management of migrant flows and Rabat's role in Occidental Sahara (a territory claimed by Morocco).

5. What does this mean for European Politics?

The case has raised doubts about the corruption and vulnerability of European institutions, which can be easily influenced. The European Parliament is the EU's only directly elected institution. Indeed, in this institution, the 705 members are directly elected by the Europeans within the 27 member countries. After the corruption scandal arose, Roberta Metsola, the European Parliament’s president, even said that « European democracy is under attack ».

According to Transparency International, this is not an isolated incident, as the European Parliament has for many years "allowed a culture of impunity to develop" accompanied by a total absence of "independent ethical control”, despite the words of its president Roberta Metsola, who said in a tweet (written on Saturday in response to the scandal) that "@Europarl_EN stands firmly against corruption”.

6. Conclusion

This scandal has put the European Union and its institutions at risk and has given the opportunity to Euro-sceptics like Victor Orbàn (Hungary’s president) to criticize the European Union, as he often does on Twitter for example. The President of the European Parliament said she would launch a reform process within the Parliament to check who has access to the premises, how organizations and NGOs are funded, and what links they have with third countries. She also expects more transparency in meetings with foreign actors. This corruption case is not to be taken lightly. For its security and reputation, the European Union should take the necessary steps to regulate its institutions and secure its democracy.

Viktor Orban's post about the scandal © Twitter - Viktor Orban

Sources: The New York Times, Courier International, Le Monde, NOS News, Twitter, BBC news, Politico

Written by Anaïs Penin

December 2022

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