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EU parliament warned ‘democracy under attack’

The president of the European Parliament warned members Monday that alleged bribery by a foreign power was an attack on democracy, after Belgian investigators charged a senior MEP with corruption.

“Make no mistake,” Roberta Metsola told MEPs. “The European Parliament, dear colleagues, is under attack. European democracy is under attack and our free and democratic societies are under attack.”

Belgian investigators have charged four people, including Greek MEP and one of the vice presidents of the parliament Eva Kaili, with “criminal organisation, corruption and money laundering”.

Searches have been carried out at the parliament’s Brussels site and in several homes and a large quantity of cash has been recovered, following allegations Gulf monarchy Qatar has been seeking to burnish its image.

Qatar, which is currently hosting the football World Cup, denies any involvement. “Any claims of misconduct by the State of Qatar are gravely misinformed,” a government official told AFP.

But Kaili has been stripped of her vice-presidential responsibilities and, officials said, parliamentary group leaders will meet Tuesday to prepare a vote to strip her of the post.

A wide-ranging internal investigation has been launched, Metsola said, and the parliament will continue to fully cooperate with and support the Belgian authorities’ probe.

“I must choose my words carefully in a manner that does not jeopardise ongoing investigations or in any way undermines the presumption of innocence, and I will,” she told the parliament as it met in Strasbourg.

“So, if my fury, my anger, my sorrow do not come across, please be assured that they are very much present.”

“These malign actors linked to autocratic third countries have allegedly weaponised NGOs, unions, individuals, assistants and members of the European Parliament in an effort to subvert our processes.”

And, in a setback to Qatar’s diplomatic ambitions, she announced that she would send a report on allowing Qatari citizens an EU visa waiver back to committee, delaying or derailing a decision.

Kaili, who travelled to Qatar ahead of the World Cup and praised the Gulf state’s labour reforms, had been lobbying for the visa waiver to be adopted. Investigators said “bags of cash” were found at her house.