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Legal net tightens on Greek MEP graft suspect

The legal challenges facing Eva Kaili sharpened Thursday as the Greek MEP, already accused of taking bribes from Qatar, faced a second investigation and a vote to strip her of parliamentary immunity.

Kaili was arrested last week during a series of Belgian police raids on European politicians’ homes and offices around Brussels, and has been charged with corruption and money-laundering.

On Thursday, a Greek judicial source said that Athens prosecutors had also opened a preliminary inquiry in parallel with the Belgian case, which has sent shockwaves through the European Parliament.

And in the latest blow, the European chief prosecutor asked the parliament to strip Kaili of her immunity from prosecution so that she can be investigated for a separate alleged misuse of funds assigned to MEPs to pay assistants.

The Qatar government has rejected any claims of wrongdoing as “gravely misinformed”.

These new damaging developments came as the president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, vowed to adopt “a wide-ranging reform package” to clean up the legislature.

Metsola said the plan would strengthen the parliament’s whistle-blower protection systems, ban all “unofficial friendship groups” with foreign governments and review how to enforce its own rules.

She said she would lead the changes, which are to include “a complete and in-depth look at how we interact with third countries,” and that the package would be ready “in the New Year”.

At the same time, EU lawmakers voted to call for representatives of Qatar to be temporarily barred from parliamentary premises in Strasbourg and Brussels.

Four suspects — including Kaili, a former European Parliament vice president under Metsola — have been charged in Belgium with “criminal organisation, corruption and money laundering”.

– Bags of cash –

Through her lawyers, Kaili, a 44-year-old former TV newsreader, has denied any wrongdoing and suggested that her partner and fellow accused Francesco Giorgi has questions to answer.

A series of searches at the homes and offices of politicians, lobbyists and parliamentary assistants turned up around 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in cash.

A Belgian judicial source said 600,000 euros were found at the home of MEP-turned-lobbyist Pier Panzeri, 150,000 euros in Kaili’s flat and 750,000 in her father’s hotel room.

In Kaili’s Greek homeland, the Athens financial prosecutor’s office has opened a preliminary corruption and money laundering investigation, a judicial source said on Thursday.

“The financial prosecutor… has ordered the opening of an investigation into taking bribes and money laundering,” said the source.

Two deputy prosecutors have been assigned to the case and asked Belgium for copies of documents and information on the progress of the investigation.

But Greek prosecutors will await the results of the ongoing investigation in Brussels before deciding whether to open criminal proceedings in Greece.

– Allowance fraud –

In Luxembourg, EU prosecutor Laura Kovesi’s office said Kaili, a socialist, and her fellow Greek conservative Maria Spyraki were suspects in a separate case related to the payment of parliamentary assistants.

Legal and political sources said this case was entirely distinct from “Qatargate”.

Kovesi wrote to Metsola asking her to arrange a vote to strip Kaili and Spyraki of their immunity so they can be investigated for “fraud… in relation to the management of the parliamentary allowance, and in particular concerning the remuneration of accredited parliamentary assistants”.

In response, Metsola’s press service said: “The parliament has immediately started the procedure regarding the request for waiver of immunity, foreseen in its rules.”

In the Belgian case, a magistrate concluded that Kaili’s parliamentary immunity would not apply as she was allegedly caught red-handed with thousands of euros in cash.

In the separate issue of parliamentary allowances and assistants’ pay, she continues to enjoy protection as an MEP, as does her political rival Spyraki, who has no link to the bribery scandal.