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European Parliament arrests spark calls for tougher checks on MPs

The arrest of a European Parliament vice-president and four others linked to a corruption probe involving World Cup host Qatar sparked calls on Saturday for a ‘radical reform’ of the institution European. “This is not an isolated incident,” said anti-corruption campaign group Transparency International. “For many decades Parliament has allowed a culture of impunity to develop, with a combination of lax financial rules and controls and a complete lack of independent ethical scrutiny (or indeed any),” its director said. Michiel van Hulten. Left-wing French MEP Manon Aubry condemned Qatar’s “aggressive lobbying” and demanded a parliamentary debate on the Gulf state. The European Parliament had “become a law in its own right”, Van Hulten said. “It’s time to reform the roots and the branches.” Alberto Alemanno, a Belgium-based law professor, said ‘the scandal opens several Pandora’s boxes at once’, including ‘the flawed European ethics system for MEPs’ and ‘the scale of influence foreign on the EU”. – Corruption, money laundering – Police arrested Greek Socialist MEP Eva Kaili on Friday hours after four other people were arrested. At least three were either Italian citizens or from Italy, a source familiar with the matter told AFP. Kaili, 44, is the partner of one of the four, Francesco Giorgi, parliamentary assistant for the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament, the source said. Former Italian MEP Pier-Antonio Panzeri, who served as a socialist in parliament between 2004 and 2019, is also believed to have been arrested. All five were still being questioned on Saturday, a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said, adding that the investigation focused on suspicion of “corruption” and “money laundering”. In Rome, a government source confirmed to AFP that Panzeri’s wife and daughter had been arrested. The arrests followed searches in Brussels which Belgian prosecutors said yielded 600,000 euros ($630,000) in cash. Police also seized computers and cell phones. Belgian daily L’Echo reported on Saturday that “several bags full of (cash) banknotes” had been found at Kaili’s Brussels home. While prosecutors did not name the country under investigation, a judicial source close to the case confirmed to AFP that the Belgian press reported that it was Qatar. Prosecutors had simply stated that the state in question was suspected of influencing the decisions of the European Parliament through cash payments or gifts to high-profile figures. – Parliamentary immunity – Kaili is a former television presenter and one of the 14 vice-presidents of the European Parliament. In November, just before the World Cup, she met with Qatar’s Labor Minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri. In a video statement posted to Twitter by Qatar News Agency, she said: “I think the Arab World Cup has been a great tool for…transformation and political reform.” In a subsequent speech to the European Parliament, she said: “Today’s World Cup in Qatar is proof… of how sports diplomacy can achieve a historic transformation of a country.” Qatar, she insisted, was a “trailblazer when it came to workers’ rights”. In Athens on Friday, the president of the Greek Socialists (PASOK) Nikos Androulakis announced on Twitter that Kaili had been expelled from the party. “There is pressure within the party for Kaili to leave his seat in the European Parliament,” a party member told AFP. “At the moment she does not wish to give up her seat because she knows that this would imply the loss of her parliamentary immunity,” said a second source. – ‘Seriously misinformed’ – A Qatari government official told AFP: “We are not aware of any details of an investigation. Any allegations of misconduct by the State of Qatar are seriously misinformed.” The country “operates in full compliance with international laws and regulations”, he added. European Parliament President Roberta Metsola meanwhile said the assembly “stands firmly against corruption”. “We will do everything we can to help the course of justice,” she added. Panzeri, 67, currently heads a Brussels-based human rights organization called Fight Impunity. The General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Italian Luca Visentini, was also among those reportedly arrested. The CSI said it was “aware” of the media reports. World Cup hosts Qatar have struggled to improve their image in the face of criticism over their record on worker protections and human rights. Asked by AFP on Monday, Visentini praised progress made by Qatar on workers’ rights, but insisted the “pressure” must be kept up once the tournament was over. Migrant workers make up more than 2.5 million of Qatar’s 2.9 million people. mad/dd/ach

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