The European Chief Prosecutor, Laura Codruța Kövesi, requested on Thursday the lifting of immunity of two Greek Members of the European Parliament, Eva Kaili and Maria Spyraki, over suspicions of committing fraud.
The prosecutor’s office said the petition was not directly linked to the widening corruption scandal sending shockwaves through Brussels.
“Based on an investigative report received from the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), there is a suspicion of fraud detrimental to the EU budget, in relation to the management of the parliamentary allowance, and in particular concerning the remuneration of Accredited Parliamentary Assistants,” the prosecutor said in a short statement.
“In accordance with the national applicable law, Ms Kaili and Ms Spyraki are entitled to the presumption of innocence.”
Under EU law, MEPs cannot be subject to any form of inquiry, detention or legal proceedings because of opinions expressed or votes cast in their capacity as democratically-elected legislators.
Eva Kaili is the MEP at the centre of the ongoing corruption scandal. She was arrested on Friday, suspected of illicit lobbying in favour of a Gulf country, widely believed to be Qatar.
She has been charged with participation in a criminal organistaion, corruption and money laudering, and remains in custody alongside three other suspects, including her partner, Francesco Giorgi. She is to appear in front of a judge for a pre-trial hearing on 22 December.
Several offices of parliamentary assistants have been sealed as part of the ongoing investigation. Belgian police have also frozen IT resources from parliament employees to prevent the disappearance of key data.
Kaili has been already ousted from her role as European Parliament Vice President and member of the socialist group, known as S&D.
Her arrest was possible because she was reportedly caught in the act, the only circumstance that immediately revokes parliamentary immunity.
Kaili’s team has not replied to several media requests sent by Euronews. Her lawyer has defended her innocence, saying she “had nothing to do with bribery from Qatar.”
Maria Spyraki is also a Greek MEP but she sits with the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP). She acts as vice-chair of the parliament’s delegation for relations with China.
Euronews reached out to Spyraki asking for comment. In her first reply, she expressed surprise at the news and asked for the press release from the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) to be sent to her by WhatsApp.
“I gladly accept the request of the EPPO to waive my immunity in order to show that I have not received a single euro of a financial dispute with the European Parliament,” Spyraki said in a second response to Euronews.
“The matter concerns the allowance of a foreign former colleague of mine, who had a serious personal problem and had some absences from the (European Parliament’s) liaison room. I have nothing to do with the QatarGate and I have nothing to do with any other case.”
Despite the timing of the announcement and the connection with Kaili, an EPPO spokesperson told Euronews that the request for immunity waivers were part of a separate, distinct investigation.
“We do not comment on our investigation and we cannot say anything about the Belgian investigation. It’s two investigations,” a spokesperson told Euronews.
“Please note that we are also in touch with the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office over competence in the Qatar investigation.”
The European Parliament confirmed it had received the prosecutor’s requests, which will now be examined by the committee on legal affairs.
“We must avoid confusion and be very clear: this information is not related to the #Qatargate, but a separate inquiry conducted by (the European Chief Prosecutor) regarding the management of two MEPs’ parliamentary allowance,” Adrián Vázquez Lázara, the MEP who chairs the committee, said on Twitter.
Set up in June 2021, the EPPO is an independent office responsible for investigating, prosecuting and bringing to judgment crimes against the EU’s financial interests, such as fraud, money laundering and corruption.
This article has been updated to include new reactions and developments.