Huge EU Parliament bribery probe at risk of unraveling | Courthouse News Service
Thursday, November 30, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, November 30, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Huge EU Parliament bribery probe at risk of unraveling

It's been called the biggest corruption scandal to ever hit the European Parliament. But the so-called “Qatargate” prosecution is in danger of collapsing because Belgian investigators may have mishandled the probe.

(CN) — A major corruption case against three members of the European Parliament is at risk of collapsing after a Belgian court agreed to examine whether Belgian police and intelligence services illegally collected evidence before conducting high-profile raids and arrests.

On Tuesday, a Brussels court ruled that Belgian investigators may have breached the parliamentary immunity enjoyed by three European Union lawmakers at the center of the bribery scandal involving alleged payments by the governments of Qatar and Morocco to obtain favors.

The court said it will take until at least next May to examine how investigators gathered their evidence, according to news reports. European legal experts and media said the high-profile case, dubbed “Qatargate,” was in danger of unraveling.

“It is no longer Qatargate but Belgium-gate!” said Sven Mary, a lawyer for Eva Kaili, a Greek politician at the center of the scandal. Kaili was serving as the European Parliament's vice president when the scandal broke in early December 2022.

“Secret services infiltrated the European Parliament, it’s going way too far,” he said, as reported by Politico.

Belgian prosecutors said they planned to carry on with the investigation.

The bribery scandal has become a major embarrassment for EU institutions and led the Parliament to pass rules banning parliamentarians from activities that constitute lobbying or accepting donations worth more than 150 euros ($160). Members of the European Parliament, known as MEPs, now must also declare their income at the start and end of their terms.

The European Parliament is the only EU institution composed of members directly elected by citizens. The scandal has threatened to undermine the trust Europeans have in the EU project and in efforts to make the transnational bloc more democratic and effective.

In April, Kaili was released from jail on bail four months after she was arrested in December 2022. Also jailed in Belgium were Marc Tarabella, a Belgian MEP, and Antonio Panzeri, a former MEP from Italy who allegedly used a nonprofit organization to accept bribes. Andrea Cozzolino, an Italian MEP, also was accused of taking part in the bribery scheme and was placed under house arrest in his native Naples.

Kaili, Tarabella and Cozzolino were members with the center-left Socialists and Democrats group in Parliament, as was Panzeri before he left the chamber. Kaili, Tarabella and Cozzolino were kicked out of the political group.

Kaili's partner, Francesco Giorgi, was also arrested. Giorgi and Panzeri have admitted their guilt and cooperated with prosecutors. In statements to prosecutors, Panzeri said Morocco paid bribes too, though there are few details about Morocco's alleged involvement.

The MEPs are accused of receiving large sums of money and gifts in exchange for championing Qatar's agenda in EU affairs. The MEPs have denied any wrongdoing.

After imposing a blockade on Russian natural gas, the EU turned to the oil-rich kingdom of Qatar for its energy needs. In turn, Qatar sought an easing of visa requirements for its citizens, among other favors.

Last year, Qatar also tried to use its hosting of the World Cup to burnish its global image and highlight the Middle East's progress. The kingdom faced a strong outcry over its dismal track record on human and labor rights. In Parliament, Kaili defended Qatar's record on human rights.

Qatari officials have said they had no reason to bribe EU officials and have rejected the allegations.

Belgian authorities said 1.5 million euros in cash (about $1.6 million) was seized during raids on homes and offices.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow @cainburdeau
Categories / Criminal, Government, International, Politics

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.