Qatar, the World Cup host nation, is at the center of a new scandal brewing in the European Parliament — one of the European Union’s three main institutions.
The timing of these revelations has been described as uncomfortable for the entire EU as the 27-nation bloc has been trying to forge a good relationship with the oil-rich Gulf nation ahead of winter as the continent tries to cut its reliance on Russian energy. Germany has already signed a deal with Qatar to secure liquified natural gas supplies.
What is ‘Qatargate?’
“Qatargate” has been used to describe allegations that the government of Qatar bribed European Parliament officials and others to advance their objectives.
Belgian investigators reportedly have raided residences and parliamentary offices. Searches have also been carried out in Italy.
Authorities recovered over 1.5 million euros (about $1.6 million) in cash so far through the searches, a spokesperson for the Belgian prosecutor’s office told Politico Tuesday. Authorities said they seized 600,000 euros at a suspect’s home, 150,000 at a European lawmaker’s apartment, and “several hundreds of thousands of euros” inside a suitcase at a Brussels hotel, the outlet said.
Belgian federal police on Wednesday shared photos on Twitter appearing to show the cash authorities seized.
Why did the Qatari government allegedly pay bribes to European Parliament officials?
Qatar’s main goal allegedly was securing hassle-free travel in the EU for their citizens.
At the moment, Qataris need to apply for a Schengen visa before travel to the EU. Under proposed legislation, Qatar residents would be able to obtain a visa upon arrival in the EU allowing them to stay up to three months, according to The New York Times.
Qatar has denied any wrongdoing.
Who does the scandal involve?
Police have arrested a total of six people so far. The most prominent official involved in the scandal is Eva Kaili, a European Parliament member from Greece who has been serving on the body since 2014.
Kaili, who was arrested Friday, faces charges of corruption, money laundering and criminal organization, according to Politico’s Brussels Playbook. She is due to appear in court Wednesday, the outlet reported.
She has denied wrongdoing.
“She has nothing to do with financing from Qatar, nothing, explicitly and unequivocally,” defense lawyer Michalis Dimitrakopoulos told a Greek TV station Tuesday, according to Reuters.
Her assets in Greece have been frozen.
Kaili had previously raised eyebrows by making statements praising Qatar’s working conditions, despite reports of deaths of thousands of migrant workers involved in building stadiums and facilities associated with the World Cup. She visited the country’s capital last month.
The Belgian prosecutor’s office has reportedly filed similar charges against three other individuals: Kaili’s romantic partner Francesco Giorgi, who works as a parliamentary aide; ex-parliament member Pier Antonio Panzeri, who currently leads a nonprofit; and an Italian whose identity has not been disclosed.
How has the European Parliament reacted?
The parliament’s president, Roberta Metsola, warned colleagues that the institution and European democracy at large are “under attack.” She also pledged an internal investigation and reforms to ensure transparency.
The parliament also voted to remove Kaili as one of 14 vice presidents of the body.
Kaili still holds her MEP title.
Kaili has been forced out of her PASOK party in Greece, and the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament.
The parliament has also canceled a vote on the proposed legislation around visas for Qataris.