Eva Kaili’s career has taken her from student activism in Greece to the highest levels of European lawmaking, but she now risks an equally steep fall following her arrest in a corruption investigation involving World Cup host Qatar.
After rising to become one of the European Parliament’s 14 vice presidents, the 44-year-old was among four people arrested and accused on Sunday in Belgium on charges that Qatar lavished them with cash and gifts in order to influence decisions.
Eva Kaili, who defended Doha in the European Parliament last month against those attempting to “bully” the city-state over its treatment of migrant workers, denies any wrongdoing.
Qatar has also denied the allegations.
However, horrified by the controversy, European parliamentarians removed Eva Kaili from her position as vice president on Tuesday. Some colleagues have also advised her to resign as an MEP, while the Greek socialist PASOK party she represents has expelled her.
Eva Kaili, an architect by training and a former TV newsreader, was among a number of young Greek politicians that emerged during Greece’s crippling debt crisis from 2010 to 2015.
While Greece received three international bailouts, Athens battled with other European Union capitals on a regular basis, altering Greek politics and fostering a climate in which Eva Kaili and others willing to challenge veteran politicians thrived.
“She was always ambitious,” said a former PASOK official who knew Eva Kaili and her family while she was a student in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.
“The job of VP suited her like a glove,” the person added of her role as vice president of the European Parliament, which she obtained after being elected to the EU parliament in 2014.
She defended Qatar, which has experienced harsh criticism from human rights groups for its treatment of migrant workers during World Cup preparations, during a parliamentary session on Nov. 21 to debate the rights issue relating to the World Cup.
Eva Kaili, who visited Kuwait and Qatar in late October and early November, reported the International Labour Organization as saying Qatar had been “implementing labor rights… and introducing minimum wage despite the hurdles.”
She continued, saying: “They chose to commit to a goal, and they opened themselves to the world. Nonetheless, some here are pushing for discrimination against them. They intimidate them and accuse everyone who speaks or engages in conversation of corruption.”
Three days later, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging FIFA to assist families of deceased migrant workers and those subjected to human rights violations.
Eva Kaili was a university student activist who became a municipal councillor in Thessaloniki at the age of 24.
She then worked as a television announcer for the Greek station MEGA TV for three years before being voted to parliament in 2007. She was the youngest PASOK politician elected to the Greek parliament at the age of 29.
During the Greek financial crisis, she questioned then-Prime Minister George Papandreou’s handling of the debt problem, and threatened to withdraw vital parliamentary support at one point.
“Her attitude is that she is innocent, I can tell you that,” Eva Kaili’s lawyer in Greece, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, said in response to the charges she is now facing in Belgium.
“She has nothing to do with Qatari finance, officially and unequivocally,” he continued.