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4 charged with bribery in Qatar corruption probe


BRUSSELS – Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office announced on Sunday that it has charged four people with corruption and other crimes in a major investigation into alleged bribes from Qatar to current officials and lawmakers and elders of the European Parliament.

The prosecutor did not name any of the accused and named only one “Gulf State” when the charges were announced in this case. But a Belgian official directly involved in the case said the country allegedly involved was Qatar. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

The prosecutor said that of six people questioned on Friday, two had been released without charge. Belgian authorities raided 16 homes on Friday and raided one residence on Saturday. They confiscated a bag containing 600,000 euros ($632,000) in cash, along with computers, phones and other evidence, the prosecutor said.

“It is suspected that third parties in political and/or strategic positions within the European Parliament have been paid large sums of money or given substantial gifts to influence Parliament’s decisions,” the prosecutor’s office said on Sunday. Belgian in a press release.

The Belgian official and European Parliament officials said that of the six people hosted on Friday, one was Eva Kaili, a high-level MEP from Greece and one of the parliament’s vice-presidents.

Others included Ms Kaili’s life partner, Francesco Giorgi, who works as an assistant to an EU lawmaker; Luca Visentini, the recently elected leader of the International Trade Union Confederation, the global workers’ union; Pier Antonio Panzeri, former Member of the European Parliament; and Mrs. Kaili’s father, Alexandros. The identity of the sixth person was not known.

The investigation comes as Qatar hosts the Men’s World Cup amid intense scrutiny.

The scandal is likely to embarrass the Qatari government, which has been criticized for exploiting migrant workers who helped build the tournament’s infrastructure. In addition, the authoritarian country’s criminalization of homosexuality has become a flashpoint between some Western teams and fans and world football’s governing body FIFA. And corruption was also already at the center of concerns.

A Qatari government official said on Saturday the government was not aware of any details of a European investigation. The official said any allegations of Qatari misconduct were grossly misinformed and that the state was operating in full compliance with international laws and regulations.

The Belgian prosecutor said on Sunday that the charges against the four people arrested were corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal organization.

Belgian newspaper Les Echo first reported on Sunday that one of the four was Ms Kaili. Le Soir reports that Ms. Kaili’s father and Mr. Visentini are the two people released on Sunday. The New York Times was unable to independently confirm this information.

On Saturday evening, police raided the home of another member of the European Parliament, Belgian Marc Tarabella, in the presence of the body’s president, Roberta Metsola, in accordance with immunity rules protecting its incumbent members, said the prosecutor and Ms. Metsola’s office.

No one was arrested during the search on Saturday evening, the prosecutor said.

Ms Metsola has asked Ms Kaili to step down as Vice President. She was expelled on Saturday from her party, the center-left Greek Pasok, and suspended from her group in the European Parliament, the Socialists and Democrats.

Parliament agreed to suspend any votes or discussions regarding Qatar, such as visa rules for Qataris in the European Union.

Mr Panzeri, the former MP also detained, was once a member of the Socialists and Democrats group. The office of his nongovernmental organization, Fight Impunity, did not respond to a request for comment.

The International Trade Union Confederation, of which Mr. Visentini was the head, declined to comment on the case.

Mr Giorgi’s colleagues in the European Parliament as well as his boss there, Andrea Cozzolino of Italy, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

A spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor did not have the names of the lawyers of those questioned. The New York Times called and texted Ms. Kaili’s number several times, but it had been turned off. In a Facebook post to The Times about the investigation, Ms Kaili’s sister, Mantalena Kaili, said there was “no news from our end yet”.

The European Parliament is one of the three key institutions of the European Union. Although widely considered the least powerful, lawmakers are often approached by lobbyists from nations, industries and interest groups seeking to influence public opinion on their causes and win allies in the room. where important policies are debated.

Ms Kaili was a strong supporter of Qatar in the months leading up to the World Cup and recently visited there on an official trip.

“Today, the World Cup in Qatar is proof, in fact, of how sports diplomacy can achieve a historic transformation of a country with reforms that have inspired the Arab world,” Ms. Kaili said on last month in a speech to the European Parliament. “I alone said that Qatar is a pioneer in labor rights.”

“Yet some here are calling to discriminate against them,” Ms Kaili said of Europe’s approach to Qatar. “They bully them and blame anyone who talks to them or engages in corruption.”

nytimes Gt

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