The affair surrounding alleged corruption in the European Parliament has all the ingredients for an exciting Netflix series: a smart, attractive prime suspect, Eva Kaili, who was Vice-President of the European Parliament at the height of her meteoric career as a TV announcer and top politician. An equally attractive, younger partner, Francesco Giorgi, who works in Parliament. An older former MEP, Antonio Panzeri, pulled the strings. And the family is also involved: the father of the Greek main suspect Eva Kaili was supposed to flee with cash in a suitcase on his daughter’s instructions. And Panzini’s wife and daughter are said to be accomplices and will be extradited from Italy to the Belgian judiciary.
The plot follows: A non-governmental organization with the appropriate name “Fighting Impunity” (Eng.: fight of impunity) founded by Panzeri, is said to have done lobbying work in Brussels. Officially for the prosecution of war crimes, unofficially more likely for a “state on the Persian Gulf”, which the Belgian public prosecutor’s office has not specified. The media is generally talking about Qatar, where the FIFA World Cup just ended. During several house searches, the Belgian investigators, who have been working on the case for a year, seized a total of 1.5 million euros in cash. The accusation against the EU parliamentarians and their employees is: corruption, money laundering, formation of a criminal organization. Eva Kaili gave a remarkably positive speech on Qatar in parliament and met with officials in the country. However, some indications also point to Morocco.
Who else is in?
As if the material had to be enough for several seasons, the supposed scandal spread further. A former EU commissioner from Greece, Dimitris Avramopoulos, was on the payroll of the possibly shady lobbying NGO. He received 60,000 euros for his work on the – honorary – supervisory board of the organization. Avramopoulos claims to have given up his cooperation at the beginning of the year. A spokesman for the EU Commission explained that he only met former Commissioner colleagues in Brussels for friendly chats, not for lobbying.
Corpus dilicti: Belgium’s federal police show 1.5 million euros in cash found on the suspected Kaili/Panzeri gang
Other EU politicians who sat on the board have also resigned and claim they never received any money. However, they are all still on the Fighting Impunity website listed as members of the supervisory board (as of 22.12.22). The EU Commission announced that the NGO had not received any funding and was not included in the lobby register because it had not sought contact with EU commissioners.
Kaili maintains her innocence
Eva Kaili’s lawyers maintain their client’s innocence. However, since there is a risk of escape or collusion, the magistrate decided on Thursday to extend the detention for a month. For tactical reasons, the court did not provide any precise information. The court was not impressed by the lawyers’ argument that Eva Kaili’s two-year-old daughter needs her mother right now over the holidays, although the child’s father, Eva Kaili’s partner, remains in custody. Now the two-year-old daughter is said to be in the care of her grandfather, the alleged money messenger.
Leaks and political consequences?
As in every good political thriller, information was evidently pushed through in Brussels: two newspapers quoted from confidential investigative reports. The lawyers for the main suspects protest. There is talk of partial confessions: the partner is said to have taken the blame and heavily burdened the other accused in order to relieve his partner. She, in turn, said through her lawyer that she felt “betrayed” by her Italian partner. She did not know anything about large amounts of cash in her apartment and its origin.
Antonio Panzeri: once an MEP, then a lobbyist with dubious business practices, now in custody (archive image)
The Belgian investigative authorities have not yet made public what exactly they justify the accusation of corruption and how the money laundering is said to have taken place. Qatar has denied all allegations that the government bribed European politicians. An unnamed Gulf state diplomat who works at the embassy in Brussels has suggested the Belgian investigation could negatively impact gas deals with the wealthy emirate.
EU Parliament goes in sackcloth and ashes
The European Parliament reacted very resolutely, almost hectically. Eva Kaili was thrown out of the Presidium of Parliament. The socialist faction and the Greek Pasok party excluded them. The Speaker of the Parliament, the Maltese Roberta Metsola, announced comprehensive reforms for the recording of lobbying activities in Parliament. Parliament has also postponed visa liberalization for Qataris and frozen all contacts with authorities and politicians in Qatar, which in turn has been criticized by them.
“Enemies of democracy”: EU Parliament President Roberta Metsola distances herself from her deputy Kaili
At the EU summit last week, some heads of state and government expressed their dismay at the scandal in the EU institution. Metsola spoke of “anger, grief and rage” that she feels. “The enemies of democracy, for whom the mere existence of this parliament represents a threat, will stop at nothing,” Metsola predicted the day after her deputy Kaili was arrested. She also spoke of – attention: Netflix factor – “malicious actors linked to autocratic third countries.” The EU security services have been working closely with Belgian authorities for some time to uncover the “suspected criminal network”, according to the President of Parliament.
And in the best supporting roles…
There are now also suspicions and allegations against a trade union official, other MEPs and ten assistants in parliament, most of whom are said to be Italians. A second non-governmental organization, also founded by accused ex-EU MP Panzeri, is also being targeted by investigators and the media.
Eva Kaili met Qatar’s Labor Minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri. The Gulf state rejects all allegations. (Archive 10/31/2022)
An important supporting role in a well-cast drama would be that of the stubborn but incorruptible investigator. In reality, it is probably the examining magistrate Michel Claise in Brussels who got the case rolling and, according to the newspaper “La Libre”, likes to take on the powerful and sometimes uses controversial methods. Another supporting role would fall to the eternally annoyed villain. In the EU affair, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday advised the abolition of the freely elected European Parliament to regain public confidence. According to Orban, all controls have failed. Better than a free parliament would be an assembly of representatives sent by the parliaments of the 27 member states of the EU.
It may be months, if not years, before a Belgian court hears a case against Kaili and Co. So there’s still plenty of time for the good old series motto: To be continued.