Home Society Police raid MEP’s house as Qatargate corruption probe widens
Police raid MEP’s house as Qatargate corruption probe widens

Police raid MEP’s house as Qatargate corruption probe widens

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BRUSSELS — Police raided the house of Belgian Socialist MEP Maria Arena on Wednesday as part of the Qatargate investigation — a corruption scandal that has centered on the European Parliament.

Several lawmakers from Arena’s center-left Socialists & Democrats grouping have been caught up in the probe but, to date, Arena was not charged or even questioned by Belgian prosecutors.

She was, however, mentioned in an arrest warrant earlier this year naming a group of MEPs who would allegedly do former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri’s bidding to alleviate Qatar’s influence in Brussels.

She has denied any involvement in the scandal. 

Arena has carried on performing her duties as an MEP since the scandal erupted last December. She stepped down as chair of the subcommittee for human rights — a position she inherited from Panzeri, after POLITICO revealed she had failed to declare a subsidized trip to Qatar in line with Parliament’s rules.

She is the fourth sitting MEP to be implicated in the scandal, after Eva Kaili, Marc Tarabella and Andrea Cozzolino were charged. Panzeri admitted his guilt and struck a plea deal with prosecutors in exchange for a reduced sentence.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola was present Wednesday at the search of Arena’s property in Schaerbeek, in the north of Brussels, her spokesperson said.

“I can confirm that the president of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola was present, as per her obligations under the Belgian Constitution,” the spokesperson said, adding that Metsola ensured “the legal requirements for the request had been met.”

“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,” the spokesperson added.

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

“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.”

The search comes a month after Belgian prosecutor Michel Claise recused himself from the investigation over allegations of a conflict of interest for his close ties with Arena. He was replaced by Aurélie Dejaiffe.

Claise’s son, Nicolas Claise, and Arena’s son, Ugo Lemaire, are co-owners of a company — Buddy Belgium, which sells Cannabis-derived CBD products — and have known each other for years, according to public documents from the company and social media posts.

Arena did not immediately reply to a request for comment from POLITICO.

Barbara Moens contributed reporting.

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