Four arrested in Belgium, including EU politician Eva Kaili, her partner Francesco Giorgi, ex-MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri and Niccolò Figa-Talamanca
Panzeri ‘s wife and daughter were arrested in Italy, but not charged, following searches by Italian authorities
Group alleged to have taken bribes from Qataris to influence European Parliament debates in Brussels
Belgian police have revealed photo of cash they seized which totals $1.61 [£1.3million], found inside two homes and a suitcase at a hotel
Part of the cash was found in bags in Kaili’s house
Over the weekend, Kaili was stripped of her responsibilities as vice president, expelled from her party both in Greece and Brussels, as Greek prosecutors froze her assets
Belgian police Tuesday displayed stacks of cash allegedly used to bribe EU officials by an unnamed ‘Gulf State’. In some quarters, it is believed the country involved current FIFA world cup hosts, Qatar.
Officers in Brussels investigating alleged bribery by Qatar said they had seized nearly large sums of money in bank notes after raids at the homes of some Members of the European Parliament and their associates, across the Belgian capital which began Friday.
Police sources said the haul of $1.61million [£1.3million] in currency was seized from three different locations at the weekend including $617, 909 [£500,000], found inside the home of one suspect, $160658 [£130,000], in the apartment of another, and £650,000 inside a suitcase at a Brussels hotel room.
Greek socialist MEP Eva Kaili, 44, is alleged to be the recipient of at least some of that money along with her partner Francesco Giorgi, 35.
The pair are among four arrested and charged with ‘money laundering, corruption and taking part in a criminal organization’ after bags of cash were found in her house.
Kaili’s father is reported to have been carrying the briefcase with $803,282 [£650,000], in notes, before being stopped by investigators coming out of a Sofitel in the Belgian capital.
It was that ‘red handed’ moment which allowed cops to waive Kaili’s usual right to diplomatic immunity and search her home where they reportedly found ‘valuables’ and more ‘bags of banknotes’, Belgian newspaper Le Soir said.
The £500,000 was said to have been found inside the home of Pier Antonio Panzeri, another of the four arrested and charged at the weekend.
He is an Italian ex-MEP who now runs a think-tank championing human rights which was associated with a number of high-ranking European Union [EU], officials.
The fourth arrest is reported to be Niccolò Figa-Talamanca, who runs a lobbying group called No Peace Without Justice.
Kaili, speaking through her lawyer, has denied guilt and said she ‘has nothing to do with bribery from Qatar.’
Meanwhile Qatar, although it has not been publicly named as the state involved but has been accused in Belgian media, preemptively, has denied involvement.
‘The State of Qatar categorically rejects any attempts to associate it with accusations of misconduct,’ the Qatari mission to the EU said.
The four people charged are scheduled to in court Wednesday for a bail hearing.
Two more people were arrested and questioned but not charged, thought to be Panzeri’s wife and daughter, as searches were also carried out in Italy.
Extracts of their arrest 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. An attorney representing the family in Italy said Panzeri’s wife and daughter denied any involvement at a hearing in Italy on Saturday. An Italian court is expected to decide next week whether his wife and daughter will be handed over to Belgium.
The group is accused of taking the money and other gifts in return for trying to tip debates in the European parliament in Qatar’s favor.
The Panzeri family defense team in Italy stated that they have not received the full European arrest warrant.
Other items seized during the raids include laptops and mobile phones. Police ordered the IT resources of 10 parliamentary staff frozen to prevent destruction of data. Searches have also been carried out in Italy.
It was revealed Monday that Belgian police had also raided the home of Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella in connection with the bribery allegations. Tarabella who was not arrested, has strongly denied any wrongdoing.
In arrest warrants issued in Italy, there are also allegations of payments from Morocco.
Shortly before the World Cup, Kaili travelled alone to Qatar where she praised their preparations for the tournament, after a fuller EU delegation had been told not to come,
During a debate on November 24 on a motion to condemn Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, she stood up to praise their progress since being awarded the footballing showpiece event.
And, just 10 days ago, she showed up to vote in favor of weakening visa rules for high-ranking Qataris despite not being a member on the relevant committee.
The backlash has been swift. Over the weekend, Kaili was stripped of her responsibilities as vice president, expelled from her party both in Greece and Brussels. Simultaneously, prosecutors in Greece froze her assets.
On Tuesday, she was sacked as vice president in a 625 to 1 ballot as fellow politicians raced to distance themselves from her.