An MEP who served on the same parliamentary committee as Eva Kaili has compared the Qatargate corruption scandal to a Tintin cartoon and called for a profound change in the European institutions' "culture" towards lobbying and putative cases of corruption.
In an interview with The Brussels Times, Danish MEP Niels Fuglsang — who is also a member of the same centre-left parliamentary party (the Socialists & Democrats) as Greek MEP Kaili — said he was "surprised, baffled and angry" by the scandal which implicates the Qatari and Moroccan Governments to have allegedly made payments to various European lawmakers, including Kaili, in exchange for their support for pro-Qatari and pro-Moroccan policies.
Fuglsang expressed particular dismay at the "surreal" nature of the scandal, which involved, among other things, federal investigators catching Kaili's father holding a suitcase filled with €600,000 in cash as he was leaving a luxury hotel in downtown Brussels.
"The story reminds me of a Tintin cartoon with people with suitcases filled with money," Fuglsang said. "It was hard to imagine this kind of scenario. It goes beyond my imagination, I would say."
Strange, but not suspicious
As fellow members of the Parliamentary Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), Fuglsang had frequent interactions with Kaili, although he did not know her in a personal capacity.
"It's a person I've talked with many times," Fuglsang said. "I didn't know her that well. [But] I didn't have a negative impression of her. I thought she was a friendly person. I didn't suspect anything."
Fuglsang did, however, find an infamous speech delivered by Kaili shortly before her arrest defending Qatar's human rights record to be "a bit strange", but pointed out that unconventional opinions are par for the course in European politics.
"You hear all kinds of strange opinions in the European Parliament," Fuglsang said. "That is part of democracy: people will have opinions that I disagree with, and that I sometimes find bizarre."
Rules and culture
In addition to calling for a "full investigation" into the scandal, Fuglsang expressed support for the creation of a special parliamentary authority tasked with examining alleged cases of corruption, as recently proposed by the Greens/EFA.
"An official investigative authority which has the right to look into suspicious things would, I think be a fine thing to have," Fuglsang said. "I think we should do everything we can to have rules and institutions that prevent any of this ever happening again."
- Qatar corruption scandal: Kaili and Panzeri both make 'partial confessions'
- Qatar corruption scandal: Partner of suspected MEP Kaili confesses to receiving bribes
Fuglsang was similarly supportive of other measures designed to limit cases of 'unofficial' corruption, including curtailing the revolving door between European politicians and private businesses and reforming the European Parliament's current regulations pertaining to lobbying.
Fuglsang was careful to emphasise, however, that it is cultural — rather than purely legislative — change which is ultimately required within the European institutions.
"We should obviously have new rules," Fuglsang said. "But, of course, if these accusations against Eva Kaili and others are true, then they already broke the rules. Obviously, it's illegal to be bribed. If people are willing to take money in suitcases, we can make a lot of rules but that might not necessarily prevent this kind of thing from happening."
"So, we need to make rules, and better rules, but we also need to try to promote a different kind of culture. But that's not so easy. That takes a long time."