Belgium Arrests EU Lawmaker, Four Others In Corruption Probe Linked To European Parliament (#GotBitcoin)
Investigators suspect a Gulf state sought to influence decisions through payments and gifts. Belgium Arrests EU Lawmaker, Four Others In Corruption Probe Linked To European Parliament (#GotBitcoin)
BRUSSELS—Belgian police detained for questioning a senior European Parliament lawmaker and four other people on Friday in connection with an alleged influence campaign that prosecutors suspect was orchestrated by a Gulf state and targeted the European Union’s legislative body.
Two people familiar with the case said the country was Qatar.
A Qatari official said the government wasn’t aware of any details of an investigation and its engagement is in full compliance with international laws and regulations. “Any claims of misconduct by the state of Qatar are gravely misinformed,” the official said.
Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office said Friday that investigators suspect a Gulf state of attempting to influence decisions by paying money or offering gifts to people connected with the European Parliament. The statement said four people were arrested for questioning.
On Friday evening the prosecutor’s office said that a fifth person had been detained, a sitting lawmaker. A person familiar with the case said the lawmaker was Eva Kaili, a Greek lawmaker and the vice president of the center-left political grouping, the Socialists & Democrats group.
There was no immediate comment from Ms. Kaili’s offices in Brussels or Strasbourg.
In Belgium, the federal police have 48 hours to decide whether to formally charge someone or to drop the case.
European Parliament lawmakers generally have immunity from prosecution unless the European Parliament votes to drop it. The immunity doesn’t apply, however, if they are caught in a criminal act.
Pasok, the Greek political party to which Ms. Kaili has belonged, said it was expelling her, and the Socialists & Democrats group suspended her.
“Following the latest developments and the Belgian authorities’ investigation into corruption of European officials, MEP Eva Kaili is expelled from PASOK – Movement for Change by decision of President Nikos Androulakis,” the party said on Twitter.
The case could turn into one of the biggest scandals in the European Parliament, which has been at the center of several corruption and fraud cases over the past two decades.
Former lawmakers have been jailed for taking bribes in so-called cash-for-laws cases, and there have been multiple criminal cases involving lawmakers’ misuse of European Parliament cash.
Ms. Kaili was described as an up-and-coming power in the EU legislature by parliamentary sources. She was a member of the parliament’s delegation for relations with the Arab Parliament, among other duties.
In a recent speech in parliament she extolled Qatar’s record as the soccer World Cup host, saying it had put its alleged human-rights problems behind it.
“The World Cup is proof actually, of how sports diplomacy can achieve a historical transformation of a country with reforms that inspired the Arab world,” she said. “I alone said that Qatar is a front-runner in labor rights.”
The prosecutor’s office said police conducted 16 searches in Brussels as part of a major investigation into alleged criminal organization, corruption and money laundering, and arrested four people.
“For several months, investigators of the Federal Judicial Police have suspected a Gulf country of influencing the economic and political decisions of the European Parliament,” the statement from the prosecutor’s office said.
It said the alleged influence campaign was conducted through the payment of large sums of money and large gifts to people in political or strategic positions.
The searches on Friday were mainly aimed at parliamentary assistants working in the European Parliament, according to the prosecutor’s office. It said one of the people questioned was a former member of the European Parliament.
Police recovered about 600,000 euros in cash, equivalent to around $632,000, and seized computer equipment and mobile phones, the prosecutor’s office said.
In the wake of the Qatari diplomatic crisis that began in 2017—when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries cut ties with Qatar and banned planes and ships registered there from traveling through their territory—Qatari diplomats sought to raise their profile in Brussels, organizing briefings with media and events at the European Parliament and with other European Union institutions.
A spokeswoman for the European Parliament said the legislature doesn’t comment on judicial proceedings and would fully cooperate with the national authorities handling the case.
The European People’s Party Group, the bloc that represents EU center-right political parties, said Friday that it was shocked by news of the investigation. “No stone should be left unturned.
There is no place for corruption anywhere in the EU. The authorities have our full support,” the group’s official Twitter account said.
The Socialists & Democrats Group, which represents center-left political parties, said it was appalled by allegations of corruption in EU institutions. “We are the first to support a thorough investigation,” the group said on Twitter. It said it would cooperate with investigators. There was no immediate comment from the group on Ms. Kaili’s arrest.
It isn’t the first time the European Parliament has been caught up in corruption scandals. Former lawmakers have been jailed for taking bribes in so-called cash-for-laws cases, and there have been many scandals around lawmakers’ misuse of European Parliament cash.
Each lawmaker receives money to appoint their own team of assistants, making oversight of the aides largely dependent on the European Parliament member.
Qatar’s activities in Washington have also come under scrutiny. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating whether the country’s efforts to hire Washington insiders have violated U.S. laws on lobbying.
John Allen, a retired Marine general, resigned as head of the Brookings Institution in June after court documents alleged he was trying to help Qatar navigate a diplomatic crisis in 2017 and then covered up that he did so.
U.S. law requires people paid to lobby on behalf of foreign governments to publicly register that work. Gen. Allen has denied that he lobbied for the Qatari government.
Pro-Crypto EU Lawmaker Eva Kaili Set To Lose Vice-Presidency Amid Corruption Probe
Kaili, actively involved in European Parliament discussions on cryptocurrency and NFTs, was suspended from her party last week following allegations of lobbying by Qatar.
European Union lawmaker Eva Kaili, who has taken an active role in efforts to regulate crypto in the 27-nation bloc, could be stripped of her job as a vice president of the European Parliament after RTBF reported she was among four people charged in Belgium as part of a corruption probe linked to lobbying by Qatar.
The parliament’s president, Roberta Metsola, confirmed that a meeting will be convened Tuesday to begin the process. Kaili, a member of the parliament from Greece, was suspended from her Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats party on Friday following the allegations.
“I have stripped the Vice-President mentioned of any tasks and responsibilities related to their role as Vice-President,” Metsola told lawmakers Monday, without mentioning Kaili by name. A meeting of political group leaders will be convened early Tuesday morning “to bring their term as vice-president to an end in an effort to protect the integrity of this house.”
Parliamentary rules allow a term of office to be terminated early for “serious misconduct,” if approved by a supermajority of two-thirds of lawmakers. A vote is due to take place on Tuesday afternoon, European time.
“The European Parliament is under attack” by “enemies of democracy,” Metsola said of allegations that Qatar sought to buy influence, which culminated in a series of raids by Belgian police on Friday. A proposal for Qataris and Kuwaitis to gain visa-free access to the bloc was subsequently booted back to committee.
Metsola stressed that the presumption of innocence applies during the investigation. She confirmed that Kaili was no longer sitting with the Socialists and Democrats political party.
Kaili has long been a champion for crypto and blockchain technology, and was due to pen the Parliament’s views on non-fungible tokens (NFT) in the coming weeks. In March she pleaded for softer anti-money laundering rules to apply to transfers of crypto assets from self-hosted wallets, saying in a tweet that her approach would enable the bloc “to fight crime and corruption while remaining tech neutral and innovation friendly.”
Kaili’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Eva Kaili Arrest A ‘Setback’ For EU Crypto Regulations, Economist Says
European Parliamentarian Eva Kaili’s arrest under allegations of corruption is being labeled as a blow to crypto and blockchain adoption.
The arrest of European Parliamentarian and cryptocurrency proponent Eva Kaili has been labeled as a blow to the ecosystem by prominent blockchain industry participants.
Kaili, one of 14 European Parliament vice presidents, was arrested and charged on Dec. 10 by Belgian prosecutors who are investigating allegations of corruption, money laundering and criminal organization involving Qatar and senior policy-makers in Europe.
Belgian police reportedly seized 600,000 euros in cash as well as computers and cell phones belonging to Kaili and three other individuals involved in the probe. Kaili has since been suspended from the European Parliament, which she’s been a member of since 2014.
Kaili has been a vocal supporter of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology in the European Parliament and has played an important role in providing direction to the governing body’s approach to the sector in recent years.
Erwin Voloder, senior policy fellow at the European Blockchain Association, told Cointelegraph that the allegations against Kaili cannot be downplayed but admits that her arrest removes a much-needed voice to support the cryptocurrency space.
Voloder also highlighted Kaili’s role in leading the DLT Pilot Regime and 2016 Blockchain Resolution as well as her role as a shadow rapporteur, in which she lobbied to elevate blockchain technology during the 2020 InvestEU proposals.
Kaili also took the reins in an individual drive to explore nonfungible tokens (NFTs) within the purview of the European Union’s recently adopted Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA) regulations. Voloder said Kaili’s efforts to explore NFTs from a financial services and industrial application perspective were positive for the blockchain space.
Voloder went on to highlight what he observed as “negative and uninformed arguments” against blockchain and Web3 technology at the German Bundestag in mid-December. The economist believes this negative sentiment is pervasive across the continent:
“I think we have a similar problem at the EU level in that ideology can play an outsized role in driving how a certain technology or industry is perceived, especially in today’s hyper-partisan climate.”
Voloder also questioned whether macro-events in the cryptocurrency space, including the implosion of FTX, have played a role in branding the ecosystem as “industry non grata and guilty by association.”
Kaili’s expulsion from parliament leaves a gap for an equally vocal and passionate cryptocurrency proponent to drive regulatory exploration. Voloder did provide an optimistic take, referring to a recent workshop at the European Parliament that saw industry experts and commission officials presenting varying views on the sector.
Voloder also speculated that the Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW) could also take up the mantle in developing a framework for the NFT and decentralized finance sector.
Qatar Warns Brussels Bribery Allegations Could Hurt Energy Talks With Europe
Persian Gulf kingdom is one of Europe’s best hopes for weaning itself off Russian natural gas.
Qatar warned Sunday that an investigation by authorities in Brussels into its role in an alleged influence and bribery scheme could adversely affect energy talks with Europe and condemned a decision by the European Parliament to suspend dealings with the Persian Gulf kingdom.
The European Parliament’s move “will negatively effect regional and global security cooperation, as well as ongoing discussions around global energy poverty and security,” a statement by a Qatari diplomat to the European Union said Sunday, noting that Qatar is an important supplier of liquefied natural gas to Belgium.
The legislative body last week voted in favor of a resolution calling for representatives of Qatari interests to have their security passes suspended. A Parliament official said Sunday that no decision has been made on banning Qatari representatives and the legislative body is reviewing its rules on representatives of foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations.
Since the war in Ukraine broke out, Qatar has emerged as one of Europe’s best hopes for weaning itself off Russian natural gas. Germany, France, Belgium and Italy have been in talks with Qatar to buy LNG on a long-term basis.
But the Qatari statement, which didn’t identify the diplomat, marked a sharp escalation in the brewing influence-peddling scandal, one that threatened to spiral into a clash with broader diplomatic and economic ramifications.
Belgian police detained two EU lawmakers and several other people linked to the European Parliament over suspicions that they accepted hundreds of thousands of euros from Qatari officials to influence the legislature’s decisions. Police have staged raids in Belgium and Italy, in what threatens to become the biggest scandal in Brussels in years.
The Gulf kingdom reiterated Sunday that it wasn’t involved in the alleged influence peddling and blamed what it called preconceived prejudices for the Parliament vote Thursday to freeze legislation involving Qatar and to request that Qatari officials be barred from its premises.
A spokeswoman for the European Parliament declined to comment on the Qatari statement on Sunday.
“Qatar was not the only party named in the investigation, yet our country has been exclusively criticised and attacked,” the statement said. “It is deeply disappointing that the Belgian government made no effort to engage with our government to establish the facts once they became aware of the allegations.”
Qatar has been selling natural gas super-chilled into liquid form—a process used for shipping the fuel—to China, South Korea, Japan and other Asian consumers on long-term contracts, helping the country of less than three million people become one of the largest exporters of gas.
Qatar agreed last month to send Germany two million tons of liquefied natural gas a year for at least 15 years, starting in 2026, in a deal with U.S. energy major ConocoPhillips. The volume would cover around 3% of Germany’s 2021 annual gas consumption.
The European Union successfully filled its gas storage tanks ahead of winter, and many analysts say the continent might avoid an energy calamity this winter. But procuring gas for coming winters is widely anticipated to become more difficult for European countries now that they are mostly cut off from Russian supplies and global competition is growing for finite cargoes of liquefied natural gas.
“Qatar has strong and longstanding ties with many countries in the European Union, and we extend our gratitude to those who have demonstrated their commitment to these relationships during this current wave of attacks against our country,” the statement by the Qatari diplomat said.
One of the European Parliament members detained is Eva Kaili, a Greek lawmaker and the vice president of the center-left political grouping, the Socialists & Democrats group, people familiar with the case said.
Ms. Kaili’s lawyer said in a statement last week that she is innocent and that money found in the home she shares with her partner “exclusively concerns her partner.”
Ms. Kaili’s position as vice president was terminated last week and she was expelled from Pasok, the Greek political party to which she has belonged, and from the Socialists & Democrats group.
“For several months, investigators of the Federal Judicial Police have suspected a Gulf country of influencing the economic and political decisions of the European Parliament,” a statement from the prosecutor’s office said earlier this month.
It said the alleged influence campaign was conducted through the payment of large sums of money and large gifts to people in political or strategic positions.
The prosecutor’s office said last week that police found a total of 600,000 euros at the home of a suspect, several hundred thousand euros in a suitcase in a Brussels hotel room, and about 150,000 euros in an apartment belonging to an EU lawmaker.
European Parliament lawmakers generally have immunity from prosecution unless the body votes to drop it. The immunity doesn’t apply, however, if they are caught in a criminal act.
In a recent speech in Parliament, Ms. Kaili extolled Qatar’s record as the soccer World Cup host, saying it had put its alleged human-rights problems behind it.
“The World Cup is proof actually of how sports diplomacy can achieve a historical transformation of a country with reforms that inspired the Arab world,” she said. “I alone said that Qatar is a front-runner in labor rights.”