Following an investigation into alleged illicit lobbying activities by Qatar, the European Union is faced with a major corruption scandal. A top MEP has also been suspended from her party due to the ongoing probe that has led to four people being detained.
Belgian police searched 16 homes in and around Brussels on Friday as part of the inquiry. According to Belgian media outlet Knack, investigators are looking into whether Qatar tried to influence positions in the Parliament in ways that “go beyond classic lobbying”. “Roughly €600,000 ($631,000) in cash,” cellphones and computer equipment were seized in the raids.
European Parliament vice-president Eva Kaili is reported to be one of those detained. She belongs to the Greek socialist party Pasok and has been suspended from the Socialists and Democrats group in the parliament. She has also been expelled from the center-left Pasok party in Greece. Kaili was charged with corruption and remanded in custody on Sunday after Belgian investigators found “bags of cash” in her home.
Belgian police are investigating allegations that figures working on behalf of Qatar, the Gulf monarchy and World Cup host, have paid European politicians huge bribes to influence the Brussels policy debate.
The Parliament has been accused of taking a soft stance towards Qatar in the build-up to the World Cup. Reports said that parliamentary assistants were the main targets of the wider searches. Others detained include Luca Visentini, secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation and Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former S&D MEP from Italy who chaired the Parliament’s human rights subcommittee, according to Politico.
“For several months, investigators from the Federal Judicial Police suspect a Gulf country of influencing the European Parliament’s (EP) economic and political decisions,” the prosecutor’s statement said.
The European arrest warrant, that also led to the arrest of Panzeri’s wife and daughter in Italy, accused him of “intervening politically with members working at the European Parliament for the benefit of Qatar and Morocco”.
Even though Qatar has been widely slammed over condition of stadium construction workers, Kaili recently called Qatar a “frontrunner in labour rights” after meeting with the country’s labour minister.
Qatar is hosting the 2022 World Cup and has courted several controversies. Besides worker conditions, it has been criticised for its regressive policies toward LGBTQ+ rights and migrant workers.
The host nation has reportedly reached out to officials “with a significant political and/or strategic position” at the Parliament and sent them “substantial amounts of money” and “important gifts,” according to the prosecutor’s statement.