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'European parliament under attack': What we know about the Qatar bribery claims

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
'European parliament under attack': What we know about the Qatar bribery claims
Members of the European Parliament attend the opening session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on December 12, 2022. (Photo by FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP)

The EU has been hit by a growing scandal that alleges Members of the European Parliament accepted huge cash bribes from figures working on behalf of World Cup host Qatar. Here's what we know so far.

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What's the story?

Leaders of the EU Parliament have accused foreign powers of trying to corrupt European democracy, as a
probe into alleged bribes from World Cup host Qatar widened.

Belgian investigators, meanwhile raided offices in the parliament's Brussels base, seeking to seize computer data to track the alleged web of corruption.

Searches were carried out at the homes of MEPs and their associates in Belgium and around a million euros in cash has been recovered after allegations that Qatar has been seeking to burnish its image.

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Belgian prosecutors said 600,000 euros ($630,000) were found at the home of one suspect, 150,000 euros at the flat of an MEP and several hundred thousand euros in a suitcase in a hotel room.

Who is in trouble so far?

One of the European parliament's vice presidents, Greek socialist Eva Kaili, has been charged with corruption by Belgian prosecutors and her assets have been frozen by her homeland.

On Tuesday the European parliament's MEPs voted 625 to one to strip Greek socialist MEP Eva Kaili of her vice presidential role, despite her lawyer declaring that she was innocent and "has nothing to do with Qatar's bribes".

As the 44-year-old former TV news presenter sat in a Brussels jail cell, her colleagues in the Strasbourg parliament are scrambling to distance themselves from the taint of scandal.

On Wednesday, a Belgian judge will decide whether to maintain Kaili and three co-accused in custody pending trial.

Three of Kaili's associates have also been charged, after bags of cash were found in her home shortly after she returned from an official visit to Qatar, and a second MEP's house has been searched.

https://twitter.com/irEnriqueCortes/status/1602368302331957262

Kaili visited Qatar just ahead of the World Cup and praised the country as a "frontrunner in labour rights", a sentiment she has repeated on the floor of the parliament.

Kaili has been remanded in custody by an investigating magistrate in Belgium and has not travelled down to Strasbourg, the parliament's official seat, for the plenary session.

She received a new legal blow on Monday, when Greek authorities froze the 44-year-old former television presenter and her relatives' assets.

Belgian prosecutors revealed on Sunday that four suspects had been charged "with participation in a criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption".

The arrests followed raids in Brussels which prosecutors said turned up €600,000 ($630,000) in cash. Police also seized computers and mobile phones.

A group source told AFP that three MEPs have stepped down from committee positions pending the investigation and a fourth, Belgian socialist Marc Tarabella, has "suspended himself".

Tarabella's home was searched on Saturday, but he has not been formally charged.

What does this mean for the EU?

The Parliament's president, Maltese conservative Roberta Metsola, vowed to members meeting at their seat in Strasbourg on Monday that the body's integrity would be restored.

"Make no mistake," Metsola said. "The European Parliament, dear colleagues, is under attack. European democracy is under attack and our free and democratic societies are under attack."

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EU foreign ministers, arriving in Brussels to discuss sanctions against Iran and Russia, warned that the scandal threatens the credibility of European institutions.

"The allegations against the vice president of the European Parliament are of utmost concern, very serious," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

"It is a question of confidence of people into our institutions, and this confidence and trust into our institutions needs higher standards."

EU member state ministers meeting in Brussels, like Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, warned that the scandal was "damaging".

"This is really an unbelievable incident that must now be cleared up, without ifs and buts, with the full force of the law," German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said.

"Because this is also and especially about Europe's credibility and consequences must follow."

What's the response from Qatar?

The Gulf monarchy, which is currently hosting the football World Cup, denies any involvement. "Any claims of misconduct by the State of Qatar are gravely misinformed," a Qatar official told AFP.

Qatar had been hoping that its diplomatic outreach, and the glow of hosting of the World Cup, would secure EU visa liberalisation for its citizens.

Qatar is a key energy supplier to Europe, and plays an important intermediary role in several diplomatic tangles, but it has also been criticised for the alleged mistreatment of migrant workers, most notoriously those who built the World Cup stadiums.

 

 

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Comments (1)

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Anonymous 2022/12/13 09:17
I actually think this case demonstrates the robustness of the oversight over the European Parliament and its members. The investigation has highlighted the corruption and criminal charges and due process are now kicking in. This is really a fine example to set for many a country where the corruption is known but no consequences have followed...

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