EU ministers say the Qatar corruption probe is damaging the European Parliament

  • Corruption scandal targets the European Parliament
  • Four people were arrested and a case was registered after their houses were raided
  • Qatar has denied allegations of bribery to top officials

BRUSSELS, Dec 12 (Reuters) – EU foreign ministers warned on Monday that the EU’s credibility was at risk.

Greece on Monday froze the assets of the main suspect in the case, Eva Kylie, the 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 in Brussels on Friday raided 16 homes and seized 600,000 euros ($631,800) as part of the investigation.

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

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

The other three accused are Italian nationals — former EU lawmaker Pier Antonio Panzeri, International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Luca Visentini and Kaili’s partner Francesco Giorgi, a parliamentary aide, according to sources familiar with the case.

Calls and emails sent by Reuters to their respective offices or homes in Belgium went unanswered.

“This is an incredible incident that must be completely eradicated with the full force of the law,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbach said as she arrived for a routine meeting with her EU delegation in Brussels.

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“This is about the credibility of Europe.”

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney echoed his concerns. “It’s harmful. We need to get to the bottom of it.”

Belgian prosecutors said they had suspected for months that a Gulf country was trying to buy influence in Brussels.

A source familiar with the case said the state was Qatar. A Qatari official denied allegations of possible misconduct over the weekend.

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

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The investigation comes as World Cup host Qatar has drawn global attention amid criticism of its human rights record, including its treatment of migrant workers.

On November 21, at the start of a month-long soccer tournament at the European Parliament, Kylie lashed out at Qatar’s protesters and hailed the energy-rich Gulf state as a “pioneer on labor rights.”

“They committed to a vision by choice, they opened up to the world. Some people still call them discriminatory. They bully them, they accuse everyone who talks to them or engages (with them) as corruption,” Kylie said.

The scandal is particularly bad for the parliament, which sees itself as a moral compass in Brussels, seeking tougher rules on the environment or corporations, issuing resolutions criticizing human rights abuses around the world and taking EU governments to task.

As they arrived for Monday’s EU meeting, ministers railed against corruption.

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

“Qatar is an important partner for the EU’s energy,” he noted: “Certainly the relationship between the EU and Qatar must be built on principles including human rights and labor rights.”

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Some European diplomats told Reuters last month that pressure to maintain good relations 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 to Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Ecuador. Some legislators have suggested postponing the vote. Others have called for a debate on corruption.

Parliament was scheduled to begin at 5pm (1600 GMT) in Strasbourg, with many members having traveled from Brussels in the morning.

Report by Bill Blenkinsop in Brussels and Lefteris Papadimas in Athens; Additional reporting by Sudip Khar-Gupta, Bart Meijer, Charlotte van Campenhout, and Angelique Goutandou; By Ingrid Melander; Editing by Crispian Palmer

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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