The European Parliament’s Qatar World Cup scandal explained

On Monday, President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola warned MEPs that “malign actors, linked to autocratic third countries have allegedly “weaponised NGOs, unions, individuals, assistants and MEPS to subdue our processes,” adding that European democracy “is under attack”.

Metsola addressed the crisis during the opening of the plenary session in Strasbourg on Monday afternoon. Her comments come after news emerged that Belgian investigators had searched the EP’s offices in a probe into alleged bribes from World Cup host Qatar involving, among others, Greek MEP and one of the parliament’s 14 vice presidents Eva Kaili.

What we know so far

Belgian police have so far charged four people with “participation in a criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption”, prosecutors said in a statement on Sunday.

Eva Kaili is among those who have been indicted. Kaili’s partner Francesco Giorgi, a parliamentary assistant, and former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, who now runs the human rights group Fight Impunity, were also reportedly arrested.

Prosecutors also carried out a string of searches over several days and said cash worth about €600,000 had been found at the home of one suspect, €150,000 at the flat of an MEP and €750,000 in a suitcase in a Brussels hotel room.

Since Friday, the IT resources of 10 employees of the European Parliament have been “frozen” to prevent the disappearance of data necessary for the investigation.

During her speech, Metsola confirmed that Kaili has been stripped of the tasks related to her role as vice president. She also informed the parliament that she had convened a meeting of the Conference of Presidents to bring Kaili’s term as vice president to an end.

 

On Tuesday, the European Parliament voted to end Eva Kaili’s vice-president status with an overwhelming majority of 625 to one. Kaili has denied any involvement.

What is the scandal about?

Many details of the story remain unclear, and much has yet to unfold. Still, according to several news reports, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office suspects that Qatar sought the help of several people within the European Parliament, who were known for championing workers’ rights to improve its image within European institutions and, by extension, the West.

The formal charges are criminal conspiracy, money laundering, and bribery. Belgian prosecutors suspect that “people inside the European Parliament were paid large amounts of money or received significant gifts to influence the decisions of the European Parliament” regarding Qatar.

The case seems to centre around the NGO Fight Impunity that, until recently, counted some of the biggest luminaries in left-wing politics among its board members.

Pier Antonio Panzeri founded Fight Impunity in 2019 after 15 years as an MEP. Panzeri was known for his influence within the largest centre-left parliamentary group, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), particularly concerning labour rights issues. Before entering politics, Panzeri was the secretary general of Milan’s Camera del Lavoro (Trade Union headquarters).

Prosecutors suspect that Panzeri may have exploited the contacts he accumulated over his fifteen years as an MEP to build a career as a mediator and lobbyist, using his experience to provide services to clients such as Qatar through the operational arm of Fight Impunity.

Who’s who?

Together with Panzeri, almost all the people arrested or questioned by the Belgian federal police are close to the former Italian MEP.

Eva Kailis was one of the EU Parliament’s 14 vice presidents. She was a member of the S&D party, and her portfolio included special responsibilities related to the Middle East, where she emerged as one of Qatar’s most vocal defenders.

Kaili’s partner, Francesco Giorgi, has also been reportedly detained. He is a parliamentary assistant and an adviser to the European Parliament on the Middle East and North Africa region. Until January, he was listed as a senior volunteer advisor with Fight Impunity.

Another suspect, according to Italian news agency Ansa, is Niccolò Figa-Talamanca, who runs the NGO No Peace Without Justice. This organisation focuses on international criminal justice, human rights and promoting democracy in the Middle East and North Africa and shares the same address as Fight Impunity.

Why is Qatar lobbying?

In the west, Qatar has had an image problem for years, particularly with allegations of slave-like conditions for the migrant workers who built the skyscrapers and stadiums for the World Cup, and because of accusations of corruption and controversial deals with other states to gain influence internationally.

As Qatar is trying to work out deals with EU countries for its natural gas, maintaining a good reputation remains crucial.

In a statement to Agence France Presse (AFP), a Qatari government spokesperson said: “We are not aware of any details of an investigation. Any claims of misconduct by the State of Qatar are gravely misinformed”.

Qatar’s gains within the EU Parliament

Eva Kaili was arguably one of Qatar’s most prominent defenders. Despite deep international concerns about conditions for the world cup stadium construction workers, Kaili recently stated that the country was a “frontrunner in labour rights” after meeting with the country’s labour minister.

On 24 November, as the plenary passed a resolution “deplor[ing] the deaths of thousands of migrant workers,” Kaili took the floor to praise the “historical transformation” of Qatar brought on by the World Cup. Similarly, according to Politico, she showed up to vote in favour of visa liberalisation for Qatar and Kuwait in the Parliament’s justice and home affairs committee — even though she’s not a committee member.

Until Monday, a proposal to give Qataris visa-free travel to the EU’s Schengen was also moving forward in Parliament but has now been paused.

It has yet to be determined whether the praise and advantages bestowed on Qatar are due to legitimate personal convictions or due to the alleged persuasion campaign by Panzeri, who, for all we know, may be unrelated to the suspected Qatari bribery operation.

What is certain is that the ongoing scandal has brought into sharp focus the European Parliament’s vulnerability to influence from lobbyists and external countries.

The European Parliament has less stringent rules than the European Commission on transparency and relations with lobbyists. A cross-party majority of MEPs has long rejected any proposal to tighten these rules.

Only last week, Transparency International published a report that found MEPs’ publication of their lobby meetings patchy at best. The information was based on an analysis of more than 28,000 lobby meetings published by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and found that between June 2019 and July 2022, just over half of MEPs used the Parliament’s publication system.

In reaction to the unfolding European Parliament scandal, Michiel van Hulten, Director of Transparency International EU, said, “While this may be the most egregious case of alleged corruption the European Parliament has seen in many years, it is not an isolated incident. Over many decades, the 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) ethics oversight”.

He added, “In many ways, it has become a law unto itself.”

                           
                           
                               
guest

8 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Thomas
Thomas
1 month ago

The fact that the EU Parliament has 14 vice presidents means that there are ten too many of them. Four vice presidents should be enough. As this article just proves, the EU itself has as many problems within her own institutions as the EU likes to criticise other EU member states for and that on the same subjects like those revealed with this incident.

Incidents like this one, which is in fact a big scandal, are merely water on the mills of the anti-EU politicians. They, as the article points out, use the EU like a ‘magic money tree’ to either enrich themselves or take the benefits but publicly remain hostile to it in order to please their voters, apart from themselves. This is double-faced and dishonest but also a display of unashamed hypocrisy.

The article shows once again that the EU has a lot of work to do to reform itself, but as the article also points out, there are still too many who rather like to bloc any attempt of reformation because it might end their machinations.

Reforms within the EU are overdue and I hope that this incident might be the turning point from which a serious reformation process might start.

Carmelo Borg
1 month ago

Il KORROTI taghna il MALTIN il flus ma jihduhomx cash fil bagalja imma ippoguwhom il PANAMA U DUBAI HUX HEKK MR CASH????

Mick
Mick
1 month ago

Crooks in suits back in the headlines again, makes a change from the ones here.

Dave Green
Dave Green
1 month ago

Why does the European Parliament have less stringent rules than the European Commission on transparency and relations with lobbyists? .And why has a cross-party majority of MEPs long rejected any tightening of the rules ?. It seems to me the EU was a crooks paradise with rules deliberately kept lax so that bad actors could enrich themselves.
This huge scandal could have been prevented if President Roberta Metsola used her considerable powers and closed the loopholes. Because she has been caught asleep at the wheel I believe her position as President is untenable and she should resign.

Steve Borg
Steve Borg
1 month ago

The kink of b’marrad would have been at home with these crooks, pity he was uncovered way before he went back to the EU.

Marianna Galea Xuereb
Marianna Galea Xuereb
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Borg

The Muscats are still doing extremely well as far as personal finances and immunity from being investigated are concerned even without help from the EU.

saviour mamo
saviour mamo
1 month ago

We can’t be in more contrast. The present prime minister and the one before him are part and parcel of corruption. In Brussels there is another Maltese citizen as a European Parliament President and by action, she is showing that she is a champion in the fight against corruption.

Dave Green
Dave Green
1 month ago
Reply to  saviour mamo

The Belgian Police discovered the corruption at the European Parliament not Ms. Metsola . MEPs are a law unto themselves and the buck needs to stop at the highest level,

Related Stories

Police Commissioner will not explain drug trafficker’s security guard licence
Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa is refusing to explain how
PM still ‘tolerating’ predecessor Muscat’s occupation of Sa Maison property
Three years after assuming power at Castille, Prime Minister

Our Awards and Media Partners

Award logo Award logo Award logo