Police raid top EU political group HQ in bribery probe

Police raid top EU political group HQ in bribery probe
Опубликовано: Tuesday, 04 April 2023 15:32
European Peoples’ Party group leader, Manfred Weber (Photo: epp.org)

Europe’s most powerful political group has been raided by police over an alleged kick-back scheme in the last EU elections.

The HQ of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), situated at the Rue du Commerce in the heart of the EU district in Brussels, saw Belgian and German police sweep in unexpectedly at 9AM on Tuesday (4 April) morning .

The plainclothes officers were seeking evidence that a former staff member, Mario Voigt, took a personal bribe in return for awarding an EPP contract to a German internet firm in Jena, in the group’s digital campaign for the 2019 EU vote, according to prosecutors quoted by German media.

"We are looking for everything that can serve to legally classify the accused’s activities at the EPP," a German prosecutor told the Thüringer Allgemeine newspaper.

Voigt is now parliamentary leader of the EPP’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union party in the Thuringia region in Germany and has denied wrongdoing.

"Our client has not been guilty of anything," his lawyers said in a statement following the raid.

"The [police] visit is connected to an ongoing inquiry in Thuringia, Germany. The party is cooperating in full transparency with the authorities involved," the EPP also said in a statement.

Tuesday’s police raid was not looking for evidence of broader EPP corruption, the Thuringia state prosecutor also told media.

But it still came as a bombshell in a nervous climate in the EU capital following last year’s Qatargate bribery scandal.

Qatargate, at first, centred round bribes allegedly taken by Greek MEP Eva Kaili, who was in Europe’s second biggest group, the centre-left Socialists & Democrats, until they expelled her.

But when sleuths started digging, they found more and more rot in the mycelium of EU institutions in still ongoing investigations.

Voigt was personally brought in to Brussels to help run the EPP’s digital ads four years ago by fellow German MEP and long-time group leader Mafred Weber, the Thüringer Allgemeine said.

And if Tuesday’s raid surprised staff at the EPP offices, they should have seen it coming.

The joint Belgian-German operation took months to plan due to the complexities of EU "mutual legal requests" and "European investigation orders".

But Thuringian state police already raided his home and business premises last October.

The Thuringian parliament also lifted his immunity last September after police first found clues of a kick-back scheme in an unrelated investigation into the German firm.