The EU’s chief diplomat said a corruption scandal in the European parliament involving claims that Qatar was seeking to buy influence in the chamber was “very, very worrisome”, as bloc ministers called for a full investigation into the allegations.
Belgian police detained an MEP and seized €600,000 in cash during raids of politicians’ homes over the weekend as part of an international investigation involving claims against the football World Cup host and leading EU representatives.
“I am not a judge, there is a process ongoing. Certainly, the news is very worrisome, very, very worrisome. We are facing some events, some facts that certainly worry me,” said Josep Borrell, head of the EU’s foreign and security arm who was president of the parliament from 2004 to 2007.
“[We] have to act according not only to the facts but to the . . . evidence. I cannot go beyond the judiciary statements. I am sure you understand that these are very grave accusations,” he said on Monday ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
“This is an unbelievable incident that must now be clarified without ifs and buts with the full severity of the law,” said Annalena Baerbock, German’s minister of foreign affairs.
“This is about the credibility of Europe, so this has to trigger consequences in various areas,” Baerbock added. “Above all [it requires] complete clarification but we haven’t seen something like that for a long time.”
A Belgian judge charged four unnamed people on Sunday with “participation in a criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption.”
The scandal has already triggered official resignations and the suspension of a parliamentary vote on granting Qatari nationals visa-free travel to the bloc, due next week.
Jan Lipavský, the Czech foreign minister, said he “despise[d] it in all possible terms” when asked about the allegations.
“It is absolutely unacceptable, any form of corruption, and I am glad the Belgian police were able to act on it,” he told reporters.
“Of course, the relationship between the EU and Qatar or European countries and Qatar needs to be built on a set of policies including human rights and labour rights,” he added. “So, let’s see what [has] happened.”
While the suspects have not been named by investigators, Eva Kaili, a vice-president of the European parliament from Greece, has been stripped of her duties in the legislature as well as her membership of Pasok, the Greek socialist party.
Kaili, a former TV news presenter, defended Qatar’s human rights record in the EU parliament last month, hailing the country as “a frontrunner in labour rights” for its decision to scrap a migrant workers sponsorship system.
“There is currently an investigation ongoing into particularly serious crimes, we must all respect that,” Nikos Dendias, Greece’s foreign minister, said on Monday.
Doha has rejected any allegations of misconduct. “Any association of the Qatari government with the reported claims is baseless and gravely misinformed,” an official said.
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