- The Greek politician is one of four people arrested in Belgium
- Kylie’s attorney says she denies any wrongdoing
- Police found cash and some suitcases in the hotel during the raid
- The European Parliament’s role as the bloc’s moral compass is at stake
STRASBOURG, Dec 13 (Reuters) – Greek MEP Eva Kaili, accused of taking bribes from Qatar in one of Brussels’ biggest corruption scandals, was fired as vice president of the assembly on Tuesday.
Kylie has denied any wrongdoing, but European lawmakers have moved quickly to insulate her, fearing the Belgian investigation will hurt the assembly’s efforts to present itself as a moral compass in a troubled world.
“There will be no sweeping under the carpet. Our internal investigation will look at what happened and how we can make our systems watertight,” European Parliament President Roberta Mezzola said as 625 MEPs voted to strip Kylie of her vice presidency. one vote against, two abstentions.
Kylie, who is in Belgian police custody, was one of 14 vice-presidents in parliament.
Belgian prosecutors charged him and three Italians over the weekend with involvement in a criminal organization, money laundering and corruption.
According to a source close to the investigation, they are believed to have pocketed the money from Qatar, the current host of the FIFA World Cup. The energy-rich Gulf state has denied any wrongdoing.
Police searched numerous buildings in Brussels, including parliamentary offices and 19 homes, and found about 1.5 million euros ($1.58 million), some of which was hidden in a suitcase in a hotel room, a source close to the investigation said.
Kylie’s lawyer in Greece, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, said Tuesday that she is innocent. “It has nothing to do with funding from Qatar, nothing is clear and unambiguous,” he told Open TV in his first public comments.
Despite this, several Eurodepartments demanded that the 44-year-old socialist politician leave the assembly altogether.
“Given the scale of the corruption scandal, that’s the least we can expect from him,” said MEP Manon Aubry, co-chair of the Left Group.
Nationalist right-wing countries and politicians who have criticized the assembly say it has lost the moral high ground.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó wrote on Facebook: “The European Parliament can no longer confidently speak about corruption.”
Jordan Bardella, a French MEP and president of the far-right Rassemblement National party, said the scandal showed a “mockery” of the European Union, which he held up as “an example of virtue, a teacher”.
Belgian prosecutors said they suspected the Gulf state of trying to buy influence in Brussels for more than four months. Prosecutors said the source with knowledge of the case was Qatar, although they did not name any state.
None of the four accused have been officially identified, but their names quickly leaked to the press.
According to a source familiar with the case, the other defendants are former EU MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, Kylie’s partner, parliamentary assistant Francesco Giorgi, and Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, secretary general of the human rights campaign group.
Calls and emails sent by Reuters to their offices or homes were not answered.
Angelo De Riso, a lawyer for Panzeri’s wife Maria Colleoni and their adult daughter Silvia, who is seeking extradition from Italy to Belgium as part of the investigation, said hearings will be held on Dec. 19-20 to decide on the request.
“My clients told the judge that they knew nothing about the charges against them and had nothing to do with them,” De Riso said.
Kylie was one of the young, ambitious young Greek politicians who emerged during the debilitating debt crisis that gripped Greece from 2010 to 2015. The Greek Socialist PASOK party announced that it would expel him from its ranks.
In a speech to the European Parliament on November 21 at the start of the month-long World Cup, Kylie slammed Qatar’s detractors, hailing the energy-rich Gulf state as a “frontrunner for labor rights”.
Qatar, whose vast wealth is derived from oil and gas reserves, has been heavily criticized for its human rights record ahead of the World Cup, including its treatment of migrant workers.
Additional reporting by Phil Blenkinsop, Emilio Parodi, Carolina Tagaris, Clement Rossignol, Max Schwartz, Lefteris Papadimas, Michel Cambas, Alan Charlish, Giselda Vagnoni; Written by Ingrid Melander; Edited by Edmund Blair, Crispian Balmer, and Mark Heinrich
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.