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EU-Qatar graft scandal uncovered by year-long, pan-Europe probe, Belgium says


Belgium’s intelligence service worked closely with other European countries for more than a year to uncover the graft scandal now rocking the European Parliament, the justice ministry said.

Prosecutors suspect Greek MEP Eva Kaili and three others accepted bribes from World Cup host Qatar in a bid to influence EU policymaking. Qatar and Kaili have denied any wrongdoing.

“We’ve been too naïve … for far too long,” a justice ministry spokesperson said, referring to what he called clandestine operations by foreign powers in Belgium.

“We now arm ourselves better against this.”

The spokesperson called the ongoing investigation “a major case on which State Security has been working for more than a year, in collaboration with foreign intelligence services, to list suspicions of corruption of MEPs by different countries”.

The Belgian police posted a picture of the 1.5 million euros in cash it had recovered in raids from Friday to Monday, including a suitcase overflowing with 50 and 100 euro banknotes and two briefcases neatly stacked with 50 euro notes.

Meanwhile Kaili, who is in detention following her arrest last week as part of the investigation, will only know on Dec. 22 if she will stay behind bars during the investigation, a source close to the investigation said on.

Her lawyer Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, who says she insists she had nothing to do with the stacks of cash found by police, said Kaili needed more time to prepare her detention hearing, initially planned for Wednesday.

“We have been in coordination with her lawyer in Brussels and agreed to request a postponement for a few days to prepare,” Dimitrakopoulos said.

The other three suspects arrested and charged last week were meanwhile questioned, as planned, on Wednesday by the three-judge panel that will decide whether they must stay in detention or be released, a judicial source said.

The three are Kaili’s partner Francesco Giorgi, who is a parliamentary assistant, Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, the secretary-general of a rule of law campaign group, and Pier Antonio Panzeri, an ex-MEP and founder of another non-profit campaign group. They have all been in custody since Friday.

Reuters could not reach Giorgi, Figa-Talamanca and Panzeri or their lawyers for comment. Non-profit organisations they work with did not respond to emailed requests seeking comment.

The European Parliament on Tuesday voted to strip Kaili, a 44-year old Greek Socialist MEP, of her vice presidency role. Lawmakers have called her to quit the assembly altogether.
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A police car arrives at a court in Brussels, Belgium, December 14, 2022. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

European Parliament vice president, Greek socialist Eva Kaili, is seen at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium December 7, 2022. European Union 2022 – Source : EP/­Handout via REUTERS