Belgian police officers have carried out a search of offices in the European Parliament with the aim of obtaining evidence in their investigation into the serious corruption allegations that emerged last Friday, linked to Qatar and involving at least one current MEP. Before the weekend, the European chamber's security services froze the IT resources and media of ten people involved in the work of the Parliament to prevent the disappearance of data necessary to continue with the inquiries. "The purpose of today's search at the European Parliament was to collect this data," Belgian federal prosecutors reported on Monday afternoon.
The searches in Brussels coincided with the holding of a debate on the corruption affair in the European Parliament itself, but at its other centre, in Strasbourg. The plenary session is focused on the case of alleged corruption, money laundering and criminal organization that became public last Friday, although it had been under investigation for five months. Over the weekend, twenty searches have taken place, 19 at private residences and offices, as well as that at the offices of Parliament itself. In the searches, "several hundred thousand euros" have been confiscated, including the sum of 600,000 euros found in the home of one of the suspects. As well, police have confiscated "several hundred thousand euros in a suitcase in a room in a hotel in Brussels" and "around 150,000 euros in the apartment of an MEP", as detailed by the Prosecutor's Office.
Vice president of Parliament among those arrested
Of the six people arrested, the judge has kept four in preventive prison, and they will appear before a Belgian court on Wednesday. One of them is the Greek Socialist MEP Eva Kaili, one of the Parliament's 14 vice-presidents, who was arrested on Friday and was the person found with the aforementioned 150,000 euros in cash. Also arrested are Kaili's partner and parliamentary advisor, Francesco Giorgi; the former Italian Socialist MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri (who had the 600,000 euros in cash) and the lobbyist Niccolò Figa-Talamanca. Apart from the four held in custody, the judge released "with conditions" the trade unionist Luca Visentini and the father of the arrested vice-president, Alexandros Kaili - who was then caught red-handed on Saturday while trying to flee with a suitcase full of banknotes.
The Belgian prosecution service explained that during the weekend the home of another MEP was searched in the presence of the president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola. It was the residence of Belgian Socialist MEP Marc Tarabella. In addition, among the residences and offices searched was one used by another Belgian Socialist MEP, Maria Arena, who has temporarily resigned as chair of the parliamentary committee on Human Rights until there is "clarity" on the matter. However, the prosecutors highlighted the "excellent collaboration" from the security services of the European Parliament in the investigation and stressed the fact that the authorities are able to search MEPs' premises (despite their parliamentary immunity).
Belgian media break the news
Belgian media Le Soir and Knack revealed on Friday that the country's police were investigating an alleged case of corruption, criminal organization and money laundering with connections to the European Parliament. According to these media, Belgian prosecutors started the investigation in July over suspicions that Qatar had tried to influence the European Parliament's position on the country. The prosecutors confirmed this information in a statement, although they only spoke of "a Gulf State", without specifying which one it was. However, both Belgian newspapers asserted that the country involved was Qatar and that one of the issues in which it was seeking to exert influence was the FIFA World Cup.