Tue. Oct 3rd, 2023


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Police raid home of Belgian MEP as Qatargate scandal engulfs European Parliament

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Police in Brussels today raided the home of Belgian Socialist MEP Maria Arena as part of the ongoing Qatargate investigation, the corruption scandal which engulfed the European Parliament last December.

Other MEPs who are members of Ms Arena’s centre-left Socialists & Democrats bloc have already been implicated – but up to now, she herself has not been charged or even questioned by prosecutors.

Nevertheless, she was named in a warrant issued earlier this year identifying groups of politicians accused of acting on behalf of former MEP Antonio Panzeri to boost Qatar’s influence in Brussels.

Ms Arena, who has consistently denied any involvement, has continued to perform her duties as an MEP since the scandal erupted last December.

However, she has stepped down as chairwoman of the subcommittee for human rights, having taken over the role from Panzeri, after it was revealed that she had failed to declare a subsidised trip to Qatar in accordance with Parliament’s rules.

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Ms Arena is the fourth MEP implicated in the scandal, after police charged Eva Kaili, Marc Tarabella and Andrea Cozzolino.

Panzeri admitted his guilt, striking a plea deal with prosecutors in return for a shorter sentence.

A spokesman told Politico Roberta Metsola, the European Parliament President had been present when prosecutors attended Arena’s property in Schaerbeek, in the Brussels suburb, adding that “the legal requirements for the request had been met.”

They explained: “While the presumption of innocence of all parties is always respected, as the president has made clear on numerous occasions, the Parliament has and will continue to cooperate with law enforcement and judicial authorities in different Member States and jurisdictions, to the fullest extent possible, in an effort to ensure justice is served and the truth is known.”

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In a press statement, Belgium’s federal public prosecutor’s office said the search of Arena’s home was one of six carried out in the Belgian capital, including “several places directly or indirectly linked to her [Arena] or her family.”

The statement added: “Documents and ICT equipment were in particular seized and will be analysed,” the prosecutor’s office added, saying “this operation did not result in any deprivation of liberty.”

Belgian prosecutor Michel Claise last month recused himself from the investigation over claims of a conflict of interest related to his close ties with Arena, and was replaced by Aurelie Dejaiffe.

Claise’s son, Nicolas Claise, and Arena’s son, Ugo Lemaire, who co-own Buddy Belgium, which sells cannabis-derived CBD products, have known each other for years, public documents indicate.

Arena did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

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