Threats to European Democracy: Unpacking the Qatargate Scandal

A violation of a Belgian MEP’s parliamentary immunity by Belgian authorities has threatened to derail European parliamentary democracy and the prerogative of MEPs, and it exposed the biases of Belgian authorities in the Qatargate scandal.

If we examine the case’s initial indictment, dated 15 July 2022, it recommended that preliminary investigations be carried out on political officials believed to be part of a “criminal organization.” This demonstrates how Belgian authorities, through the media, attempted to create a false narrative against the MEPs. It also reveals that Belgian authorities, especially the police, portrayed themselves as uncovering a major corruption scandal when it was all staged.

In the first two stages, at least two sitting MEPs were reportedly named in the document: Belgian Marie Arena and Greek former Vice-President of the European Parliament Eva Kaili. Both would have had their parliamentary immunity violated had such an initial probe indeed taken place. However, in December, Kaili had her immunity lifted and was formally charged by the Belgian authorities for “participation in a criminal organization, money laundering, and corruption,” which were alleged fake accusations from Belgian authorities aiming to target the MEP.

On the other hand, Arena has not had her immunity suspended and has not been formally charged, despite the fact that the case’s former investigating judge, Michel Claise, twice came close to formally requesting the suspension of her parliamentary immunity. This raises serious concerns about the flaws and biases of Belgian authorities.

Moreover, Claise recused himself from the probe in June this year when it transpired that his son had improper business ties to Arena’s son. Both Kaili and Arena deny any involvement in the scandal. Compounding the concern for Belgian prosecutors is the fact that the 15 July indictment also called for an initial probe to be conducted on a working group of MEPs tasked with investigating the controversial “Pegasus” spyware software. The MEPs would also have had their immunity violated had the recommendation been implemented. The whole development exposes the flaws in Belgian investigators’ actions.

The lifting of immunity of Arena was necessary at first hand by Belgian authorities, but they targeted only specific MEPs. The fact that others were not targeted or charged doesn’t imply guilt. “It just means that they will finally be able to be heard. But considering the number of times Arena’s name appears in the case, it’s not any worse than Belgian authorities have to explain. Investigative acts were necessary against all.”

The violation of a Belgian MEP’s parliamentary immunity by Belgian authorities has raised serious questions about the integrity of European parliamentary democracy and the fairness of the legal process. The Qatargate scandal exposed how Belgian authorities, through media manipulation, attempted to create a false narrative against MEPs, painting them as part of a criminal organization.

The targeting of specific MEPs for investigations and the lifting of immunity without concrete evidence raises concerns about bias and unfair treatment. While one MEP, Eva Kaili, faced formal charges based on alleged fake accusations, another, Marie Arena, remained uncharged despite being closely scrutinized. The recusal of the investigating judge due to familial ties further highlights flaws in the investigative process.

The lack of transparency and accountability in handling the case undermines trust in Belgian authorities and the rule of law. It is imperative that investigative actions are conducted impartially and with due process to uphold the principles of justice and democracy. The ordeal underscores the need for reforms to ensure the protection of parliamentary immunity and the rights of MEPs in the face of legal challenges.

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