EU Parliament probes Czech MEP on China ties

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Czech MEP Jan Zahradil is under an internal probe at the European Parliament over his alleged conflicts of interest with China.

The issue stems around a so-called friendship group with China, an informal gathering of MEPs seeking closer ties with Beijing.

As chair, Zahradil earlier this year suspended the group after Politico Europe revealed he had failed to disclose Chinese sponsorship in 2019, in a breach of transparency rules.

He had run into a similar problem when this website in late 2019 exposed a conflict of interest with Vietnam, leading to his resignation as a lead MEP on the country’s trade file with the EU.

The parliament probe on Zahradil was revealed after Peter Teffer, a journalist at the Dutch-based outlet Follow the Money, filed a freedom of information request on the China-EU friendship group.

Although his request was denied, the European Parliament explained it did not want to prejudice an ongoing internal probe into Zahradil.

That probe is led by the European Parliament’s advisory committee, tasked to make sure MEPs follow a code of conduct.

In reality, it is a slap on the wrist exercise feigning accountability.

The committee is composed of five MEPs. Their probes into 26 colleagues between 2014 and 2019 have led to zero sanctions.

A report out earlier this year by Transparency International, an NGO, faulted the committee because it was compromised by MEPs.

“Even in cases of gross and repeated violations of the code, MEPs only have to fear a reprimand,” it said.

Among them is Zahradil ally and Belgian conservative MEP, Geert Bourgeois.

Bourgeois currently chairs the advisory committee and belongs to the same political group as Zahradil.

Within hours of Zahradil’s resignation as lead MEP on Vietnam, Bourgeois not only replaced him but then praised his work.

“Dear Jan, you did a great job. I’ll do my best to honour your good and hard work so far,” he said, in a tweet.

Human Rights Watch on Twitter described Bourgeois’ praise for Zahradil as disgraceful.

Its deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, said Zahradil had shown “a profound lack of moral integrity” for having held a leadership position in a Vietnam front-organisation, while at the same time shepherding through a major trade treaty.

It is unclear if the advisory committee had even launched an investigation into Zahradil’s connection to Vietnam. The parliament has in the past refused to acknowledge similar probes into other MEPs, whose conflicts were exposed through media reports.

As for Zahradil’s EU-China group, the parliament said any disclosure “would undermine the serenity and integrity” of the committee’s work.

For his part, Zahradil did not respond when asked to comment.

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