The European Parliament is at the center of a widening corruption scandal after Belgian police seized 600,000 euros and arrested two MEPs as part of an international investigation into alleged influence-peddling of soccer World Cup host Qatar.
A Belgian judge charged the four on Sunday with “participation in a criminal organization, money laundering and corruption”, after a weekend of multiple arrests and searches of homes in Italy, including the homes of two MEPs and a former MEP’s family.
Allegations against MEPs have already prompted resignations and suspended a parliamentary vote on granting Qatari nationals visa-free travel next week.
MPs have expressed shock at the arrest and detention of four family members of a former Italian MEP who were allegedly given €100,000 worth of holidays by the Qataris. Campaigners have slammed Parliament’s “culture of impunity”.
Allegations are coming Qatar With the semi-finals and finals of the World Cup set to take place next week, the world’s attention is on. The matches are the culmination of a long-awaited Gulf state, but one that has drawn unprecedented scrutiny over its stance on gay rights, its treatment of migrant workers and the use of its wealth to bolster its role in the world.
Belgium’s federal prosecutors’ office suspected “large sums of money were paid to third parties in political and/or strategic positions within the European Parliament or substantial gifts were given to influence the decision of the Parliament”.
Prosecutors had previously said Belgian police investigators suspected a “Gulf country” of trying to sway parliament. An official familiar with the investigation confirmed that the country in question was Qatar.
Doha has denied allegations of misconduct. “The reported claims of any link with the Qatari government are baseless and grossly misinformed,” an official said.
Although Belgian authorities have not named the suspects, Eva Kaili, the vice-president of the European Parliament, has been stripped of her duties in the legislature and her membership in Pasok, the Greek socialist party.
Kylie, a former TV news anchor, defended Qatar’s human rights record in parliament last month, hailing it as a “country leader in labor rights” for its decision to scrap the sponsorship system of migrant workers.
He accused other MEPs of trying to discriminate against Qatar “and blamed everyone who talks or engages with them. [in] Corrupt, but still, they take their gas. Kylie did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Antonio Panzeri, head of a Brussels-based NGO and former MEP, is being held in the Belgian capital, while his wife and daughter are being held in Bergamo on a European arrest warrant, Italian prosecutors added.
Both Italian women deny the charges, their lawyer says. Panzeri did not respond to a request for comment.
Banzeri, then an MEP, was the first person approached by the Qataris, according to Italian investigators who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Several former leading EU officials, including Federica Mogherini, formerly the bloc’s foreign policy chief, and former French prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve, later resigned as honorary board members of Panzeri’s NGO, Fight Impunity.
The European Parliament’s largest political group, the centre-right European People’s Party, said it was “shocked” by the corruption investigation and that “no stone should be left unturned”.
Italian MEP Dino Giarrusso said he and several other legislators in Brussels had been approached by Qatari authorities several times since 2019. “They hope to improve the country’s reputation, especially ahead of the FIFA World Cup,” Giarrusso said.
Anti-corruption group Transparency International said EU institutions need an independent ethics regulator.
“For decades, Parliament has allowed a culture of impunity to develop, with lax financial rules and regulations and a complete lack of independent (or indeed any) ethics oversight,” said its director, former MEP Michiel van Hulten.
Additional reporting by Eleni Varvitsiotti in Athens and Simeon Kerr in Dubai
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