- James Greory
- BBC News
Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said the arrests over alleged corruption in the European Parliament were “very, very concerning”.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the charges against the four people were “extremely damaging”.
Among those arrested was the Vice-President of the European Parliament, Eva Kaili, who is Greek, and is believed to be one of the accused.
Prosecutors suspect that a Gulf state, reportedly Qatar, tried to influence parliament by donating money or gifts.
Qatar denied any bad behaviour.
Belgian police seized nearly 600,000 euros ($632,000) in 16 searches in the capital, Brussels, on Friday. Computers and mobile phones were also confiscated to check their contents.
On Sunday, prosecutors said four people had been charged and two others had been released.
The names of the suspects have not been released, but it has been indicated that Kylie is among those charged.
“They are accused of participating in a criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption,” the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement.
Kylie, a member of the European Parliament for eight years, was suspended from exercising her duties as one of the 14 Vice-Presidents in Parliament, by decision of the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola.
She was also suspended from the Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats group, and expelled from the centre-left Greek PASOK (Greek Socialist Movement Party).
Reports said that the public prosecutor in Greece has frozen all of Kylie’s assets.
Observers and opposition parliamentarians said the bribery investigation could mark one of the largest corruption scandals in the history of the European Parliament.
“Certainly the news is very, very disturbing,” Borrell said, in press statements on Monday upon his arrival to the meeting of European Union foreign ministers.
He added, “We are facing some events and some realities that certainly worry me as a former president of the European Parliament.”
Borrell indicated that the investigation did not target any person from the European Union’s diplomatic corps.
Coveney said the allegations were “extremely damaging,” adding: “We need to get to the bottom of it.”
Meanwhile, Thierry Rentke, the German member who co-chairs the European Parliament’s Green bloc, called for Kylie’s immediate resignation.
“We shouldn’t even have to remove her as vice president,” he said. “She should do it pre-emptively.”
Prosecutors said they suspected that a Gulf state had been influencing economic and political decisions in parliament for several months, particularly by targeting aides.
Local media reported that the country was Qatar. However, the Qatari government has said that any allegations of misconduct on the part of Qatar are “severely misleading”.
As vice president, Kylie’s responsibilities include Middle East affairs. She has defended Qatar in the past.
Mitsola traveled from her native Malta to Brussels on Saturday night to witness the home search of a member of the European Parliament, as required by the Belgian constitution.
Its spokesperson said the European Parliament “stands firmly against corruption” and “cooperates fully” with the investigators.
The European Parliament is the only directly elected institution in the European Union.
Some 705 members of parliament, who are elected by citizens of the 27 countries that make up the European Union, meet to scrutinize proposed legislation and vote on it becoming European law.