ATHENS — Just last Monday, MEP Eva Kaili launched a new research center on the promotion of blockchain tech in the EU.
Leading experts and policymakers from EU institutions and the Greek government were there, including European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.
“The attendance was overwhelming,” tweeted Kaili proudly along with several photos of the event.
Fast forward to this Monday, when the 44-year-old — who is one of 14 vice presidents of the European Parliament — was charged with corruption in the Qatar scandal probe, had her responsibilities as vice president suspended, and was expelled from both the social-democratic PASOK party in Greece and the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament.
The MEP was “caught in the act” — the single circumstance that may trigger immediate revocation of parliamentary immunity.
Her 35-year-old partner Francesco Giorgi, an assistant to an Italian MEP and a founder of the nongovernmental organization Fight Impunity, was also imprisoned and charged with corruption. The couple’s assets and property, along with those of Kaili’s family in Greece, have been frozen.
Nobody could have foreseen this fall for perhaps one of the most glamorous couples in the European Parliament, who were at the peak of their careers.
Rise of an alluring maverick
The blonde-haired and blue-eyed native of Thessaloniki got involved in politics early in life, joining PASOK youth at the tender age of 14. A decade later in 2002, she became the youngest member of the Thessaloniki city council. She studied architecture and civil engineering before moving to the Greek capital and earning a master’s degree in European affairs.
In 2004, she ran a failed bid as the youngest candidate in national elections. Despite losing the vote, she gained a position as news presenter on the Mega channel, where she worked for several years. She served in the Greek parliament from 2007 to 2012 before moving to the Belgian capital in 2014 to become a European parliamentarian with the S&D.
Kaili made a name for herself with several bold and outspoken acts that broke with her party colleagues, such as initially refusing to support socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou in a crucial vote of confidence in the midst of Greece’s financial crisis in 2011. Kaili changed her mind and Papandreou survived.
She has been photographed regularly with Greek-Russian billionaire and media mogul Ivan Savvidis in Thessaloniki at bouzoukia, or flashy nightclubs where Greek popular music is performed live, in a sea of carnations.
Kaili claimed her grandfather was assassinated by communists, which was later shown to be completely false. She never apologized, nor was she ever held to account by the Greek media.
The social-democrat MEP became deeply involved in the EU’s increasingly riveting digital agenda, with its complex files including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and blockchain.
She worked closely with her sister Mantalena Kaili — executive director of ELONtech, a nongovernmental organization focusing on the impact of laws on new technologies. Eva and Mantalena were close, with the two sisters regularly seen together at EU tech conferences or on long shopping sprees in downtown Athens.
Being one of the few Greek women in a high-profile European post, Kaili enjoyed widespread support from local media, which reported long profiles dedicated to her glamorous lifestyle.
Her Italian partner Giorgi also worked as a sailing instructor in addition to his day job as an assistant to an MEP. His glamorous life is documented on his Instagram profile, which is full of photos of sailing in Sardinia or skiing. He can also be seen in Doha on business in 2018.
A couple since 2020, they lived together with their small daughter Ariadni, who is one-and-a-half years old.
From titillating to tainted
Shortly after her arrest on Friday, PASOK leader and MEP Nikos Androulakis ousted Kaili from the party, accusing her of acting as a “Trojan horse” for the ruling conservative New Democracy party.
He also said that New Democracy was preparing to put Kaili on the ballot in upcoming national Greece elections. Some reports in recent months had indicated that Kaili would run for mayor of Thessaloniki with the conservatives’ support.
Government spokesperson Giannis Oikonomou rebuffed these claims.
Yet in recent years, Kaili had moved closer to the conservatives.
“A young woman and a very good friend who is a protagonist in European affairs has been appointed as Vice-President of the European Parliament yesterday! Congratulations,” tweeted Grigoris Dimitriadis, who recently resigned as chief of staff for the conservative government.
“Kaili maintains very good relations and has managed to win the esteem of New Democracy party, even that of Kyriakos Mitsotakis,” Greek pro-government newspaper Proto Thema wrote in a profile on her after the election win. “The Prime Minister fought for her election as vice-president,” the paper reported.
In November, Kaili made a speech in the European Parliament lauding Qatar, extolling how hosting the World Cup had caused a “historical transformation” in the Gulf country, making it a “frontrunner in labor rights.” Meanwhile, the plenary was preparing to pass a resolution condemning Doha’s treatment of migrant workers. PASOK quickly distanced itself from her stance.
Also in November, European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas posted a photo with Kaili in Abu Dhabi. Schinas, the commissioner from Greece, has been criticized by MEPs for his tweets on Qatar over recent months. In one recent tweet, he praised Qatar for “considerable and tangible progress on labour reform,” calling for those reforms to be sustained. A spokesperson for the European Commission defended Schinas’ stance, pointing out that they “mirrored exactly the ILO (International Labor Organization) reports.”
The Greek government, for its part, said Kaili’s case is one example of why the wiretapping of politicians is justified. “Those who have expressed absolute positions on whether law enforcement authorities should keep an eye on political figures or not may have to approach them with greater skepticism,” government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou told local media on Saturday.
Sophie in ’t Veld, the liberal Dutch MEP who’s the lead report-writer on the European Parliament’s inquiry into spyware, trashed such claims. “That’s nonsense,” she said.
Though Kaili was reportedly one of the politicians under Greek state surveillance, she herself said the parliamentary committee she was part of should not visit Greece as part of its investigation into spyware. “That problem has now solved itself,” commented in ’t Veld.
Several socialist representatives have asked her to give up her seat in the European Parliament. “She has been distancing herself for months, and her positions and values are incompatible with PASOK,” said the party’s press representative Dimitris Manzos.
Vincent Manancourt contributed reporting.