Qatar corruption probe harms European Parliament, EU ministers say

  • The corruption scandal is aimed at the European Parliament
  • Four arrested and charged after house raids
  • Qatar denies allegations that it bribed senior officials

BRUSSELS, Dec 12 (Reuters) – Trust in the European Union is at stake, EU foreign ministers warned on Monday after allegations that Qatar showered European Parliament officials with cash and gifts to influence decision-making.

Greece on Monday froze the assets of a key suspect in the case, Eva Kylie, 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 houses and seized 600,000 euros ($631,800) in Brussels on Friday as part of the investigation.

The four unnamed suspects are charged with “participation in a criminal organization, money laundering and corruption,” prosecutors said in a statement on Sunday.

The European Parliament announced over the weekend that it had removed Kylie from her duties, while Greece’s socialist PASOK party announced it was expelling her from its ranks.

According to sources familiar with the case, the other three defendants are Italian nationals – former EU MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Luca Visentini and Kylie’s partner Francesco Giorgi, who is a parliamentary assistant.

Calls and emails made by Reuters to their respective offices or homes in Belgium were not answered.

“This is an incredible incident that must be fully clarified with the full force of the law,” German Foreign Minister Analena Berbock said as she arrived for a regular meeting with her EU counterparts in Brussels.

“This is about trust in Europe.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney expressed her concern. “This is 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 matter said the country was Qatar. A Qatari official denied allegations of possible wrongdoing over the weekend.

“Any association of the Qatari government with the reported allegations is baseless and seriously misinformed,” the official said.


The investigation comes as World Cup host Qatar is in the spotlight amid criticism of it human rights recordincluding the treatment of migrant workers.

In a speech to the European Parliament on November 21, at the start of the month-long soccer tournament, Kylie attacked Qatar’s opponents and hailed the energy-rich Gulf state as a “champion of labor rights.”

“They committed to a vision of choice and opened up to the world. Still some here are calling to discriminate against them. They harass them and accuse anyone who talks to them or engages (with them) in corruption,” Kaili said.

The scandal is particularly embarrassing for parliament, which has seen itself as a moral compass in Brussels, pushing for tougher rules on the environment or corporations, issuing resolutions criticizing human rights abuses around the world and blaming EU governments.

As they arrived at the EU meeting on Monday, ministers were quick to condemn the alleged corruption.

“This is absolutely unacceptable, any kind of corruption,” Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said.

“Qatar is an important EU energy partner,” he noted, adding: “Of course, EU-Qatar relations must be built on a range of policies, including human rights and labor rights.”

Some European diplomats told Reuters last month that pressure to maintain good ties with Qatar was mounting as the continent heads into a winter of energy shortages due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The European Parliament was due to vote this week on a proposal to extend visa-free travel to the EU for Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Ecuador. Some MPs suggested that the vote be postponed. Others called for a debate on the corruption scandal.

Parliament was due to begin its plenary session in Strasbourg at 17:00 (16:00 GMT), with many members traveling from Brussels in the morning.

Reporting by Phil Blenkinsop in Brussels and Lefteris Papadimas in Athens; Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Bart Meijer, Charlotte Van Campenhout, and Angeliki Koutantou; Written by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Crispian Ballmer

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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