BRUSSELS - Belgian authorities have charged four people linked to the European Parliament over allegations World Cup host Qatar lavished them with cash and gifts to influence decision-making.
Raids and the prosecution case
Investigators searched 19 homes and the offices of the European Parliament in raids from Friday to Monday.
A source close to the investigation said €1.5 million (S$2 million) was seized in the raids. This included €600,000 in cash at the home of a suspect, several hundred thousand euros in a suitcase in a Brussels hotel room and €150,000 in an apartment belonging to a European Parliament member.
Investigators also seized laptops and mobile phones and ordered the IT resources of 10 parliamentary staff were frozen to prevent data disappearing. Investigators seized the data on Monday.
Searches have also been carried out in Italy.
The Belgian prosecutors say they have been investigating for more than four months alleged payments made by a Gulf state. Sources close to the case say the state is Qatar.
Qatar denies any wrongdoing.
In arrest warrants issued in Italy, there are also allegations of payments from Morocco.
The Moroccan government has not responded to a request for comment.
Four suspects have been charged with participating in the activities of a criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption.
Prosecutors have not named them, but a source with knowledge of the case say they are:
Eva Kaili - a Greek socialist politician who was one of the European Parliament’s 14 vice-presidents until Tuesday when lawmakers voted to remove her from that post.
The former television presenter defended Qatar in the assembly last month against those trying to “bully” Doha over its treatment of migrant workers. Her Greek socialist PASOK party is expelling her from its ranks and Greece has frozen her Greek property.
Her lawyer in Greece said she denied any wrongdoing. “Her position is that she is innocent,” Michalis Dimitrakopoulos told Open TV.
Pier Antonio Panzeri - a former European Parliament member from Italy’s centre-left and founder of non-profit pro-justice campaign group Fight Impunity. Belgium also submitted European arrest warrants for his wife and daughter in Italy. Extracts of the warrants say they took part in Panzeri’s activities and in the transport of gifts, and that Panzeri and his wife had the use of a credit card of an unidentified person they called the “geant”, or giant.
Panzeri, who is detained in Belgium, could not be reached for comment. Fight Impunity did immediately respond to a request asking for comment or for contact details for his lawyer.
A lawyer acting for the family in Italy said Panzeri’s wife and daughter denied any involvement at a hearing in Italy on Saturday but he declined to comment on the merits of the case because he had not received the full European arrest warrant. An Italian court is expected to decide next week whether his wife and daughter will be handed over to Belgium.
Francesco Giorgi - Kaili’s partner who is parliamentary assistant. His LinkedIn account says Giorgi is a sailing instructor and a founder of Fight Impunity. His account says his specialist areas as a policy adviser are foreign affairs, human rights and the Middle East.
Giorgi did not respond to a message requesting comment sent to his LinkedIn account. Reuters also received no response to emails that were sent to the office of the lawmaker he advises and to Fight Impunity.
Niccolo Figa-Talamanca - the secretary-general of human rights and rule of law campaign group No Peace Without Justice.
Figa-Talamanca could not be reached for comment. No Peace Without Justice said he had suspended himself from his role to safeguard the organisation and that the group trusted the investigation would show he had acted correctly. REUTERS