EU Parliament suspends Qatar work as corruption probe grows
Bloomberg December 15, 2022
The European Parliament voted Thursday to stop legislative work related to Qatar and called for barring the country’s representatives from the legislature after the Gulf state was tied to a corruption scandal where police seized more than €1.5 million ($1.6 million) in cash.
The parliament is reeling from an investigation after Eva Kaili, a vice president of the body, and Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former member, were arrested on money laundering and corruption charges. Belgian prosecutors said they’re probing whether large sums of money were being paid to influence the decisions of parliament.
Lawmakers voted to suspend parliamentary work that involves Qatar, which includes a visa liberalization plan. That would also include the finalization of a 2019 deal that expands flight rights between the EU and Qatar to open up the market for both sides. The deal still needs to be ratified by all member states before it goes to parliament, and the vote won’t affect the provisional implementation of the agreement.
“These criminal proceedings are damaging for democracy for Europe and everything we stand for,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola told reporters on Thursday. “We need to send a powerful message to those external actors who try to undermine us that we will not yield.”
Metsola said she will propose a new package of ethics reforms early next year aimed at boosting whistle-blower protections, examining funding sources for non-governmental organizations and looking at how lawmakers interact with third countries. She also said she plans to review the use of access badges by former members and will push for a transparency registry to record meetings of lawmakers with representatives of third countries.
She said she also would reexamine the role of unofficial “friendship groups” that parliament members can form to discuss relationships with non-EU countries.
More broadly, the EU is bracing for the possibility that the scandal could continue to grow. Police in Belgium and Italy have conducted at least 20 searches, and also seized data from at least 10 parliamentary staff.
One of the people arrested in the plot, Francesco Giorgi, who was in a relationship with Kaili, has confessed to managing the cash for an organization used by Qatar and Morocco to influence European policy, according to the Belgian daily Le Soir, which cited court documents it viewed. Giorgi’s lawyer didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc needs to redouble its efforts to fight corruption and said she will accelerate efforts to create an ethics body that would cover all European institutions.
The probe comes as Qatar is hosting the World Cup football tournament and is being courted by European governments eager to boost their purchases of natural gas. Investigators suspect that the payments were part of a broader effort by Qatar to burnish its image amid harsh criticism of its labor and human rights practices, according to media reports. Qatar has denied any misconduct.
Bloomberg’s Lyubov Pronina contributed to this report.