What is ‘Catargate’?: all the keys to the bribery scandal that hits the EU

They already call it, without any display of originality, the catargate, and it is one of the biggest corruption scandals that has affected the European Parliament throughout its history and in addition to the institutions of the European Union, which until now seemed unscathed by this scourge. However, the Belgian Justice investigates a bribery network whose epicenter is Qatarwhich supposedly would have paid large sums of money and gifts to prominent members of the European Parliament, advisers and lobbyists who swarm Brussels what for they would sell in a positive way the image of the country and will press on its behalf before the European authorities.

The judicial investigation, opened four months agohas so far resulted in the indictment of six people, including Eva Kaili, who until this Tuesday was vice president of the European Parliament, a Greek socialist who remains under arrest accused of crimes of corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal organization. .

Kaili is the leading figure in a plot that has shaken the foundations of the European Union. In fact, nothing else has been talked about in Brussels since the Belgian press uncovered the scandal on Friday. The Eurocámara is a hotbed of suspicions, fears, distrust and suspicions. The investigation of the plot has only just begun and no one dares to predict how far its tentacles will reach.

Meanwhile, the main European authorities, Ursula von der Leyen –President of the European Commission and Roberta Metsola –President of the European Parliament– strive to defend the integrity of the institutions of the European Union and they announce an extensive investigation to purify responsibilities, whoever falls. “There will be no impunity. Those responsible will find this Parliament on the side of the law. I am proud of our role and our help in this investigation. Nothing will be swept under the rug. We will launch an internal investigation into all the facts related to Parliament,” Metsola said Tuesday.

The facts

Last Friday, December 9, the main Belgian newspapers uncovered this case of corruption. That same day the Belgian Prosecutor’s Office confirmed the news. “For several months, investigators from the federal judicial police have suspected that a Gulf country is influencing the economic and political decisions of the European Parliament, and it does so by means of considerable sums of money or by offering important gifts to people with a political position and/or or significant strategy within the European Parliament”, explained an informative note from the Belgian judicial authority.

Since Friday, 20 searches have taken place, 19 of them in private residences and offices and one in the European Parliament itself. In these records, close to one million euros in cash has been seized.

Those involved

In its note, the Belgian Prosecutor’s Office did not expressly mention Qatar, but from the first moment it was abundantly clear that it was that country despite the fact that the Qatari authorities have categorically denied being behind this schemea. “Any association of the Government of Qatar with the denounced claims is unfounded and seriously misinformed,” the Qatari Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on Twitter.

The main ones indicated are for now six: four of the people investigated are still arrested and two have been released with charges.

The most visible head of the plot is the social democrat eva kaliousted this Tuesday as vice president of the European Parliament. She flatly denies the accusations but in her Brussels apartment the investigators found 150,000 euros. It has also been known that in just two years he doubled his bank deposits. Despite the evidence against her, Kaili still holds her MEP seat.

In addition to Kaili, The other big implicated is the Italian and also a socialist Pier Antonio Panzeri, who currently runs the NGO Fight Impunity, an organization aimed at fighting corruption. The Police found 600,000 euros in cash in his house. Also indicted is a former Panzeri assistant, also Italian, co-founder of that NGO and Kaili’s current boyfriend, Francesco Giorgi. There is another person under arrest: a lobbyist who works in Brussels and whose identity is unknown for now.

The other two defendants who have been released are Kaili’s fatherarrested when he tried to leave Belgium with hundreds of thousands of euros in his suitcase, and Italian Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (CIS).

more suspects

If the Belgian Prosecutor’s Office has made one thing clear, it is that The investigation is still open and it does not rule out that there are more involved. In the search that was carried out on Monday at the headquarters of the European Parliament, investigators collected computer data from 10 parliamentary assistants whose offices had been sealed off on Friday to prevent the leakage of evidence.

The social democratic group in the European Parliament, to which all those investigated and involved in the case belong, seems to be the heart of the plot.

Several members of the Human Rights subcommittee of the European Parliament are also in the eye of the hurricane. They are all from the Social Democratic group. Belgian Socialist MEP Maria Arenawho has an assistant involved in the case, has had to temporarily leave his position as president of said subcommittee on Human Rights, and the also Belgian and socialist Marc Tarabella He has requested his own suspension after the agents searched his home, although he has not been charged so far.

Two other Italian MEPs, Pietro Bartolo and Andrea CozzolinoThey have also withdrawn from their legislative or internal work within the socialist group due to the indications indicated to them. Bartolo was the representative of the Social Democratic group in the negotiations of the European Parliament’s Committee on Freedoms on the liberalization of visas for Qatari citizens in Europe.

The gestures towards Qatar

Given the seriousness of the events, the gestures, statements and attitudes of all those involved towards Qatar are now being looked at with a magnifying glass.

In this sense, the Italian MEP Dino Giarrusso has acknowledged that he and other colleagues received several approaches from Qatar in 2019. “They hoped to improve the reputation of the country, especially in the run-up to the World Cup”Giarrusso said. Manon Aubrya French MEP attached to the Group of the Left in the European Parliament, has also denounced as a result of the news in recent days that she herself witnessed in first person “the Qatari interference in the European Parliament”.

In his case, things did not go further. Not all can say the same. Can’t tell Kaili, at least. The Greek MEP unashamedly supported Qatar a little over a month ago at the headquarters of the European Parliament. In the heat of the soccer World Cup that has just begun, parliamentarians were debating a resolution against the death of thousands of migrant workers in Qatar during the construction of infrastructure. Kaili took the floor to solemnly declare that this country is “innovative” in terms of labor rights.

Kaili even went so far as to say that Qatar had become the object of bullying by the West. And a week before she was arrested, voted in favor of visa liberalization for Qatari citizens to enter Europe a decision that for the moment has been paralyzed.

In fact, both Kaili and Tarabella have held recent meetings with representatives of Qatar – Kaili traveled to Doha on October 31 – and both have always defended that the Gulf country has made progress in labor matters.

Brussels announces anti-corruption measures

After the scandal was made public, the shock has been total in Brussels. After proclaiming that those who tried to profit from this scandal “have failed”, Roberta Metsola has promised a battery of measures to promote the transparency of the European Parliament and thus put the magnifying glass on which entities have access to parliamentary facilities and who finances people like those who allegedly would have contacted those involved in the plot to offer them money or gifts in exchange for influence.

Despite the evidence against her, Kaili still holds her MEP seat.

The leaders of the main political groups in the European Parliament have come out in droves to defend the honesty and cleanliness of an “immense majority” of the deputies, assistants and workers of the European Parliament and they agreed that the institution’s work should not be questioned by “a few bad apples.”

Even the president of the social democratic group, the Spanish Iratxe García, has announced that the European socialists will appear in the process and will explore filing charges against those who have “damaged” their political group and the European Parliament.

Qatar, a recidivist state

This case reminds the first catargate that directly affected FIFA between 2010 and 2015. These latest accusations are added to those that the US Justice launched against FIFA leaders for allowing themselves to be bribed by Qatar to host the World Cup that is taking place these days.

There are many journalistic works that have recounted that Qatar’s selection process was riddled with corruption and what prevailed were economic interests. Neither the Qatari leaders nor those of FIFA fare well. This documentary from The English Media tells it very well.

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