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European Parliament Promises Post-Qatar Cleanup


Greek politician and now-former European Parliament Vice-President Eva Kaili speaks in Brussels, Belgium, Dec. 7, 2022.

UPDATED AGAIN TO INCLUDE QATAR BAN, MOVE TO STRIP IMMUNITY: The head of the European Parliament on Thursday vowed "a wide-ranging reform package" to clean up the legislature amid a graft scandal linked to World Cup host Qatar.

European Parliament lawmakers voted Thursday to call for representatives of Qatar to be temporarily barred from the legislature's premises, amid a graft scandal implicating an MEP.

Through a vote passed 541 to two, the parliament expressed concern over the scandal and alleged undue lobbying, and demanded Qatari representatives have access suspended while the criminal probe is under way.

A final decision on applying an access ban has to be taken by the parliament's president, Roberta Metsola.

Metsola said the corruption cleanup plan "will include a strengthening of the parliament's whistle-blower protection systems, a ban on all unofficial friendship groups, a review of the policing of our code of conduct rules, and a complete and in-depth look at how we interact with third countries."

She said she would lead the changes, and that the package would be ready "in the new year."

Belgian authorities detained six people. Four of them -- including an MEP and former European Parliament vice president under Metsola, Eva Kaili -- have been charged with "criminal organization, corruption and money laundering". The other two were released.

Both Kaili, a former TV newsreader in Greece, and Qatari officials deny any wrongdoing.

The EU chief prosecutor urged the European Parliament on Thursday to strip two Greek MEPs of their immunity from prosecution -- including Eva Kaili, the face of this foreign bribery scandal.

Prosecutor Laura Kovesi's office said Kaili, a socialist, and her conservative colleague Maria Spyraki were suspects in a separate case related to the payment of parliamentary assistants.

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 an MEP-turned-lobbyist, Pier Panzeri, 150,000 euros in Kaili's flat and 750,000 in her father's hotel room.

The probe and the corruption charges have shaken the European Parliament, and put its interactions with lobbyists and representatives of non-EU countries under intense scrutiny.

Metsola has sought to frame the scandal as an outside attack on "European democracy" and said that take was endorsed by EU leaders who gathered for a Brussels summit on Thursday.

She also emphasized that the investigation was being carried out by Belgian law enforcement authorities, and the parliament was giving them "full and open cooperation".

But she acknowledged that "the rules that we have already can be tightened can be improved" when it came to monitoring transactions and trips by the parliament's 705 lawmakers, and the lobbying efforts they were subject to by non-EU countries.

"Certain things that happened in this context will not be allowed to happen again," she said.