- A corruption scandal targeting the European Parliament
- Four arrested and charged after raiding homes
- Qatar denies allegations that it bribed senior officials
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers warned on Monday that the European Union’s credibility was at stake after allegations that Qatar spent money and gifts on European Parliament officials to influence decision-making.
Greece on Monday froze the assets of a key suspect in the case, Eva Kaili, a vice-president of the European Parliament and one of four people arrested and charged in Belgium over the weekend, a source familiar with the matter said.
Kylie’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Qatar has denied any wrongdoing.
Belgian prosecutors searched 16 homes and seized 600,000 euros ($631,800) in Brussels on Friday as part of the investigation.
Prosecutors said in a statement on Sunday that the four suspects, who were not named, were charged with “participation in a criminal organization, money laundering and corruption”.
The European Parliament said over the weekend that it had suspended Kylie from her duties, while the Greek socialist PASOK party announced that it had expelled her from its ranks.
According to sources familiar with the case, the other three defendants are all Italian citizens – former EU deputy Pier Antonio Panzieri, ITUC General Secretary Luca Visentini, and Cayley’s partner Francesco Giorgi, a parliamentary aide.
There were no responses to calls and emails sent by Reuters to their offices or homes in Belgium.
“This is an incredible incident and it must be completely removed by the force of law,” German Foreign Minister Analina Berbock said upon her arrival for a regular meeting with her European Union counterparts in Brussels.
“This is about Europe’s credibility.”
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney echoed her concerns. “It’s harmful. We need to get to the bottom of it.”
Belgian prosecutors said they had suspected for months that a Gulf state was trying to buy influence in Brussels.
A source familiar with the case said the country was Qatar. At the weekend, a Qatari official denied the accusations of possible misconduct.
“Any association of the Qatari government with the reported allegations is unfounded and seriously misleading,” the official said.
The investigation comes as the world’s spotlight is on World Cup host Qatar, amid criticism of its human rights record, including its treatment of migrant workers.
In a speech in the European Parliament on November 21, at the start of the month-long soccer tournament, Kylie blasted Qatar’s critics and hailed the energy-rich Gulf state as “a frontrunner on workers’ rights”.
“They committed themselves to a vision by choice and opened up to the world. Some here still demand discrimination among themselves. They bully them and accuse everyone who talks to them or gets involved (with them) of corruption,” Kylie said.
The scandal is particularly embarrassing for Parliament, which has seen itself as a moral compass in Brussels, seeking tougher rules on the environment or businesses, passing resolutions decrying human rights abuses around the world and holding EU governments to task.
Arriving at the EU meeting on Monday, ministers were quick to condemn alleged corruption.
“It is absolutely unacceptable, what kind of corruption,” said Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky.
He noted that “Qatar is an important energy partner in the European Union,” adding, “Of course, the relationship between the European Union and Qatar must be built on a set of policies, including human rights and labor rights.”
Some European diplomats told Reuters last month that pressure to maintain good relations with Qatar is growing as the continent heads into a winter of energy shortages caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The European Parliament was due to vote this week on a motion to extend visa-free travel to the EU for Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Ecuador. Some lawmakers suggested delaying the vote. Others called for a discussion of the corruption scandal.
Parliament was due to begin its full session in Strasbourg at 5 pm (1600 GMT), with many members making the flight from Brussels in the morning.
Additional reporting by Phil Blenkinsop in Brussels and Lifteris Papadimas in Athens; Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Bart Meijer, Charlotte van Campenhout and Angeliki Kotanto; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Edited by Crispian Palmer
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