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Qatar EU bribery allegations ‘worrisome’: Borrell

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Qatar EU bribery allegations ‘worrisome’: Borrell
Qatar EU bribery allegations ‘worrisome’: Borrell

BRUSSELS: The EU’s foreign policy chief said on Monday that allegations of bribery by World Cup host Qatar to burnish its image at the European Parliament were “worrisome”, after Belgian prosecutors charged four suspects with corruption.

One of the European Parliament’s vice presidents, Greek socialist MEP Eva Kaili, was the highest-profile target remanded in custody on Sunday after investigators found “bags of cash” at her home.

The bribery claims have rocked the EU’s legislature and sparked calls for the bloc’s institutions to be put under the microscope to root out foreign influence.

“There is a process ongoing. Certainly the news is very worrisome — very, very worrisome,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

Borrell said no officials from the bloc’s diplomatic service or overseas missions were implicated in the allegations.

“There is a police and judiciary actions. We have to follow these actions,” Borrell said, adding he could not go beyond the “judiciary statements”.

“This is very, very, very grave accusations,” he said.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the allegations were “damaging and we need to get to the bottom of it.”

And his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock warned “this is also precisely about Europe’s credibility.”

600,000 euros in cash

The European Parliament was to begin what promises to be a stormy session at its seat in Strasbourg later on Monday.

Some MEPs plan to oppose opening the debate on visa liberalisation for Qatari travellers, potentially derailing a key diplomatic goal of the gas-rich nation.

The scandal erupted during the 2022 football World Cup, an event Qatar had hoped would boost its reputation, but which has been dogged by allegations of mistreatment of the migrant workers who built the host’s new stadiums.

Kaili, who has spoken publicly in support of Qatar’s recent labour reforms, was one of four suspects to have been charged and detained.

Two more have been released and the house of at least one more MEP has been searched by investigators.

The arrests followed raids in Brussels on Friday which prosecutors said turned up 600,000 euros ($630,000) in cash.

Police also seized computers and mobile phones.

Qatar has “categorically” rejected accusations that it was involved in any wrongdoing.

Kaili has been stripped of her responsibilities as a vice president of the parliament, notably that of representing the European Parliament president in the Middle East.

She remains an MEP and would normally enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution.

But there is an exception in cases where a suspect is caught red-handed in the act of committing an alleged crime.

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