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The arrests of the European Parliament trigger calls for stricter controls on MEPs

The arrest of a European Parliament vice-president and four others linked to a corruption investigation involving World Cup host Qatar sparked calls for a “radical reform” in the EU institution on Saturday. “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 (or indeed any) ethical scrutiny,” said its director Michiel van Hulten . Left-wing French MEP Manon Aubry has condemned Qatar’s “aggressive lobbying” and called for a parliamentary debate on the Gulf state. The European Parliament has “become a law in its own right,” said Van Hulten. “It’s time for radical reform.” Alberto Alemanno, a Belgium-based law professor, said ‘the scandal opens several Pandora’s boxes at once’, including ‘the flawed EU ethics system for MEPs’ and ‘the extent of foreign influence on the EU”. – Corruption, money laundering – Police arrested Greek socialist MEP Eva Kaili on Friday after four others were detained for questioning. At least three were Italian citizens or were originally from Italy, a source close to the case told AFP. Kaili, 44, is the partner of one of the four, Francesco Giorgi, a parliamentary assistant in the European Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats group, the source said. Former Italian MEP Pier-Antonio Panzeri, a socialist in parliament between 2004 and 2019, was also reportedly arrested. All five were still being questioned on Saturday, a spokesman for Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office said, adding that the investigation involves suspicions 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 raids in Brussels that, according to Belgian prosecutors, resulted in 600,000 euros ($630,000) in cash. Police also confiscated computers and cell phones. Belgian newspaper L’Echo reported on Saturday that “several bags filled with banknotes (cash)” were found at Kaili’s home in Brussels. Although prosecutors did not name the country under investigation, a legal source familiar with the case confirmed to Belgian press AFP that it was Qatar. Prosecutors had limited themselves to saying that the state in question was suspected of influencing decisions of the European Parliament through cash payments or gifts to prominent figures. – Parliamentary immunity – Kaili is a former TV presenter and one of the 14 Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament. In November, just before the World Cup, you met with Qatari Labor Minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri. In a video statement posted on Twitter by the Qatar News Agency, he said, “I believe the World Cup for Arabs has been a great tool for … political transformation and reform.” In a subsequent speech to the European Parliament he said: “Today the World Cup in Qatar is proof … of how sports diplomacy can bring about a historic transformation of a country”. Qatar, he insisted, has been a “frontrunner in workers’ rights”. In Athens on Friday, the chairman 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 insider told AFP. “For the time being, he does not intend to give up his seat because he knows that would imply him losing his parliamentary immunity,” a second source said. – ‘Grossly misinformed’ – A Qatari government official told AFP: ‘We are not aware of any details of an investigation. Any claims of misconduct by the Qatari state are grossly misinformed.’ The country “operates in full compliance with international laws and regulations,” he added. European Parliament president Roberta Metsola, meanwhile, said the assembly was “strongly against corruption”. “We will do everything possible to assist the course of justice,” she added. Panzeri, 67, currently heads a Brussels-based human rights organization called Fight Impunity. Among those arrested was also the secretary general of the International Confederation of Trade Unions, the Italian Luca Visentini. The ITUC said it was “aware” of the media reports. Qatar, host of the World Cup, has been scrambling to improve its image in the face of criticism over its record on labor protection and human rights. Interviewed by AFP on Monday, Visentini welcomed the progress Qatar has made on workers’ rights, but insisted the “pressure” must be maintained once the tournament is over. Migrant workers make up more than 2.5 million of Qatar’s 2.9 million population. crazy/jj/ach

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