At least 50 MEPs have had computers, tablets and other items stolen from their European Parliament offices while they were away from Brussels during the coronavirus lockdown.
The spate of burglaries appears to have taken place mainly while the building was virtually empty, with thieves rifling through papers and breaking into secure cupboards in MEPs’ offices to take valuables.
German MEP Nico Semsrott, who had two laptops stolen, said he is disappointed by the lack of response from the European Parliament’s DG SAFE, which deals with security. “This is a huge scandal, and I don’t know why everybody is shutting their mouth,” he told POLITICO.
“We are pretty sure they [burglars] went through all of our belongings, as it looked quite messy,” Semsrott said, adding that he had received reports of “between 40 and 100 MEPs” having their offices burgled.
Semsrott warned colleagues about the thefts in a group email on Monday and posted a video on YouTube showing how thieves forced open a desk drawer before using a key inside to open a secure cupboard containing the computers (they left the cardboard packaging behind). He said DG SAFE had not warned MEPs about the thefts.
In March, Parliament President David Sassoli introduced strict measures to ban access to outside visitors, and encouraged MEPs and staff to work from their home countries as a precaution against spreading the virus. The Parliament remained mostly empty until May.
A Parliament spokesperson said the assembly had been informed about the burglaries in April, and had “increased the number of security agents patrolling offices,” while “other agents controlled accesses to the building.” She added that DG SAFE is investigating the thefts and is in contact with the Belgian authorities. The spokesperson said the number of victims was not confirmed, but other officials said the number was around 50 MEPs.
Dita Cháranzova, a Czech MEP from the Renew Europe Group and a vice president for security, said she had asked DG SAFE for a report on the break-ins and would raise it at the upcoming meeting of the bureau, which oversees administrative matters.
“For the moment, it is not clear if it is isolated or more widespread cases,” Cháranzova said. “But the lockdown has increased the chances of such acts as fewer people were in the buildings during the crisis.”
“I can only encourage members and staff to report suspected incidents,” she added.
Massimo Casanova, an MEP from Italy’s League, wrote on his Facebook page that he had submitted a complaint to the Parliament after some “nice unknown people” broke into his office and “forced the locks of his cupboards in search of, I don’t know what.”
Casanova said “no item is missing” but he would investigate if documents had been taken.