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Greek MEP Eva Kaili, ex-TV host accused of taking bribes

Only 11 months after she became a European Parliament vice president, Greek MEP Eva Kaili is at the heart of an alleged corruption scandal involving Qatar and the EU, a far cry from the days when she presented the news.

Kaili, 44, was the highest-profile target remanded in custody on Sunday over allegations of bribery by World Cup host Qatar, after investigators found “bags of cash” at her home.

The socialist MEP had her powers as a vice president suspended on Saturday over the claims, following her arrest the day before.

She is one of four suspects to have been charged with participating in a criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption.

Kaili had already raised hackles when she told the parliament in November that Qatar was “a front-runner in labour rights”. This was despite widespread anger over the Gulf nation’s treatment of workers who built stadiums and infrastructure for the international football tournament.

The scandal has rocked the European Union’s legislature.

It also threatens the reputation of Kaili, once hailed as a rising star of Greek socialist party PASOK-Kinal.

Kaili, who hails from Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, entered politics at a young age.

She joined PASOK’s youth movement in her early teens and in 1998 became a local councillor in Thessaloniki, when she was only 20 and still a student.

After gaining a Bachelor’s degree in architecture, she pursued a career in journalism, while simultaneously studying for a Master’s in international and European affairs.

– Youngest socialist MP –

Most Greeks first discovered Kaili when she presented the news on one of the biggest private television channels, Mega, between 2004 and 2007.

But the lure of politics remained and in 2007, she became the youngest PASOK lawmaker in the Greek parliament when she was elected aged 29.

Setting her sights on a larger stage, she became a member of the European Parliament (MEP) in 2014, within its Socialists and Democrats group. She was re-elected in 2019.

In 2018, she figured on Politico Europe’s list of “Women Who Shape Brussels”, who the magazine described as “powerhouses driving debates and influencing policy”.

She was elected as one of the European Parliament’s 14 vice presidents in January 2022.

At the time of her arrest, Kaili was also part of the parliamentary delegation for developing the EU’s relations with the Arab peninsula.

Her partner, Francesco Giorgi, an Italian parliamentary assistant with the Socialists and Democrats group, has also been arrested over the bribery allegations. The couple have a two-year-old daughter.

– ‘Trojan horse’ –

Shortly before the World Cup began, Kaili visited Qatar.

“Today, the World Cup in Qatar is proof, actually, of how sports diplomacy can achieve a historical transformation of a country, with reforms that inspired the Arab world,” she told the EU assembly on November 22.

In Greece, Kaili’s political positions have differed from the PASOK line several times over the years, much to the party’s chagrin.

In 2018, she criticised an agreement between the left-wing Greek government at the time and the neighbouring former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia that ended a 27-year name dispute.

The country changed its name to “North Macedonia” to distinguish it from the bordering Greek province of Macedonia.

Kaili said she was “ashamed” after the agreement.

PASOK leader Nikos Androulakis has compared her in the past to a “Trojan horse”, acting on behalf of the ruling right-wing party, New Democracy.

He said she would not be the party’s candidate in the next European Parliament elections, due in 2024.

Faced with the graft scandal, PASOK suspended Kaili from the party and several lawmakers have urged her to resign as an MEP.