EU corruption scandal intensifies as ‘soft laws’ exposed by ex-chief
EU: Roberta Metsola says defence union ‘necessary’
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EU institutions members’ have for years been able to operate under internal rules that act like mere “fig leaves”, a former European Parliament official has denounced. MEPs careers remain in the balance as fingers are pointed at Qatari officials accused of bribing them to play down labour rights concerns ahead of the World Cup.
The Parliamentary Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group – which unites centre-left parties across member states – is at the centre of the controversy. It’s a considerable blow to the bloc as the S&D is the second-largest group in the 705-seat assembly even after losing more than 30 seats in the last election.
Following months of investigations, police launched more than 20 raids, mostly in Belgium but also in Italy. Hundreds of thousands of euros have been found in Brussels: at an apartment and in a suitcase at a hotel not far from the parliament.
Mobile telephones, computer equipment and the data of 10 parliamentary assistants were seized.
According to Emilio De Capitani, former Parliament official, the root of the problem lies in internal rules that allow MEPs to run matters almost unchecked and unsanctioned.
He told Politico: “The way the political groups in the European Parliament work is still very patchy and sometimes grants an excessive margin of discretion to the rapporteur or to the parliamentarian who is in charge of preparing an urgent resolution.”
He added that control and oversight by national delegations “is very limited and almost inexistent if the delegation is of a ‘big’ EU country or if the proposal has been negotiated by a ‘big’ parliamentary committee. This makes it practically impossible to verify what these MEPs are really doing”.
Mr De Capitani claimed that members of the EU institutions have negotiated “internal rules and guidelines, codes of conduct, inter-institutional agreements”.
He added that “the problem is that these measures are all a kind of ‘soft law’ which do not create real obligations or rights”.
When these rules are not respected, he continued, “there is no real sanction, and a very limited impact, so that they are more sort of fig leaves”.
The European Parliament said Monday that President Roberta Metsola asked all services and committees to give the procedure priority, with the goal to have it finished by February 13.
“From the very first moment the European Parliament has done everything in its power to assist in investigations and we will continue to make sure that there will be no impunity,” Metsola said. “Those responsible will find this Parliament on the side of the law. Corruption cannot pay and we will do everything to fight it.”
The EU Parliament press service did not identify the two MEPs. According to two people familiar with the case who were not allowed to speak publicly because the investigation is ongoing, they are Italian Andrea Cozzolino and Belgian Marc Tarabella.
Tarabella, whose home was raided last month, and Cozzolino have denied wrongdoing and self-suspended their membership of the Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats group (S&D).
Cozzolino had previously said he was ready to abandon his parliamentary immunity so that he would be able to answer questions from authorities.
“When it comes to the request to lift their immunity the S&D group would follow, in the context of the European Parliament, the procedures foreseen in a responsible and constructive manner,” the Socialists and Democrats said.
A third member of Parliament, Eva Kaili, has already been charged in relation with the scandal, which allegedly involves Qatari and Moroccan officials suspected of influencing economic and political decisions with gifts and money.
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Prosecutors accuse Kaili of corruption, membership in a criminal organisation and money laundering. A Greek socialist MEP, Kaili has been in custody since December 9. Her partner, Francesco Giorgi, an adviser at the European Parliament, is jailed on the same charges.
Kaili was relieved of her duties of parliament Vice-President after being charged. She would have normally enjoyed immunity from prosecution but was brought before a judge after Belgian police launched raids on premises across Brussels last month and large sums of cash were reportedly found at her home.
Kaili and Giorgi are suspected of working with Giorgi’s one-time boss, Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former EU lawmaker. According to arrest warrants, Panzeri “is suspected of intervening politically with members working at the European Parliament for the benefit of Qatar and Morocco, against payment.”
The Parliament has halted work on files involving Qatar as it investigates what impact the cash-and-gifts-for-influence bribery scandal might have had. Qatar vehemently denies involvement and Morocco has yet to respond to allegations that its ambassador to Poland might have been involved.
Belgian prosecutors are also seeking the handover of Panzeri’s wife and daughter from Italy, where they were put under house arrest on similar charges.
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