Embattled Belgian Socialist MEP, Marie Arena, and Michel Claise, the former lead investigator in the Qatargate scandal, have known each other for at least five years, Belgian press reported on June 23, raising further questions over the nature of their relationship.
Arena, who has been named in police reports but neither accused nor interviewed by Qatargate investigators, asked Claise, the probe’s lead judge until earlier this week, to come to the European Parliament on more than one occasion to advise her on parliamentary business, Brussels newspaper La Capitale reported.
“European Parliament regulars saw judge Michel Claise enter the building several times,” the newspaper wrote, quoting anonymous sources. Arena was at the time – between 2015 and 2017 – working on a Parliament proposition regarding the traceability of certain “blood minerals” or “conflicts minerals” (such as tin and gold) and sought Claise’s advice.
The lead investigator “spontaneously” withdrew from the Qatargate investigation on June 19, citing conflicts of interest. It was then revealed that his son and Arena’s son were heavily involved in a legal cannabis business, about which Arena had organised at least one Parliament event.
The new revelation “will astonish those to whom Marie Arena has claimed that she ‘does not know’ Michel Claise or has not met him,” La Capitale reported. It was said Arena wanted Claise to give her advice on the “corruption” aspects of the Parliament dossier.
Arena, who denies any wrongdoing, resigned from her post as chair of the Parliament sub-committee on human rights in January in order to “protect her image”.
This is the second controversial relationship that the Belgian has apparently been a part of. Earlier this week, what seemed to be a ‘selfie’ photograph emerged of Arena appearing to be hugging Antonio Panzeri, the chief Qatargate witness who has struck a plea bargain deal, and on whom Belgian investigators have been leaning heavily.
Despite one public statement suggesting that Panzeri had “betrayed” the Parliament, he and Arena maintained an “important” relationship, according to a lawyer representing one of the Qatargate accused.
Arena has enjoyed political “protection” at the highest levels of the francophone Socialist party, according to another article in La Capitale.
The Qatargate scandal, which has already taken many twists and turns, seems to have broken a number of friendships. According to a report in Greek media, a former Parliament vice president, Eva Kaili, regarded as the one of most high-profile suspects, and Francesco Giorgi, the father of her child and who has also reportedly helped investigators, are no longer romantically involved.
Qatargate rumours of all types are circulating in media in different countries: one implicates the secretive UK-based Freemasons brotherhood, another suggests Claise is about to launch himself on a political career, while a third details allegations regarding Morocco, another country suspected of seeking to influence Parliament reports via cash bribes.
Both Qatar and Morocco deny the accusations, as does Kaili. Arena’s office did not reply to a request for comment; her assistant told Brussels Signal earlier this week that she was abroad and therefore unavailable.