Belgian police have arrested a European Parliament vice-president and four others in connection with an investigation into corruption implicating World Cup hosts Qatar.
Officers arrested Greek socialist MEP Eva Kaili hours after four other suspects had been detained for questioning. All the other four were reportedly Italian citizens.
Kaili, 44, is a former television presenter and was one of the European Parliament’s 14 vice presidents. She has since been relieved of her duties.
In November, shortly before the World Cup started, Kaili met Qatar’s Labour Minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri.
In a video statement posted on Twitter by the Qatar News Agency she said: ‘I believe the World Cup for Arabs has been a great tool for … political transformation and reforms …’ The European Parliament ‘recognised and respected’ Qatar’s progress in labour reforms, she added.
She made similar comments during a speech at the European Parliament later in November, accusing some MEPs of ‘bullying’ Qatar and accusing them of corruption.
The president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, condemned on Monday the MEPs that are being investigated of corruption, saying: ‘There will be no impunity. None of those responsible will find this Parliament on their side,’ adding in a statement that more transparency on MEPs meeting with foreign actors is needed.
A statement issued earlier by Belgian prosecutors mentioned a Gulf country in connection with an investigation into corruption and money laundering, but did not name it.
Belgian press reports said the country concerned was Qatar, and named former Italian MEP Pier-Antonio Panzeri, who served as a socialist in the parliament between 2004 and 2019, as being one of the citizens being questioned. Panzeri, 67, currently heads a Brussels-based human rights organisation called Fight Impunity.
Belgium’s federal prosecutor announced the earlier arrests after a series of raids at 16 addresses raids in the capital Brussels.
‘Today’s searches have enabled investigators to recover about €600,000 in cash,’ the prosecutors said in a statement. ‘Computer equipment and mobile phones were also seized. These elements will be analysed as part of the investigations.’
Investigators ‘suspected a Gulf country [of influencing] the economic and political decisions of the European Parliament’, the statement added.
It alleged this was done ‘by paying large sums of money or offering large gifts to’ influential figures in the European Parliament.
The alleged bribery probe in the European Parliament comes as World Cup host Qatar has made a major push to improve its image in the face of criticism over its record on worker protections and human rights.
Migrant workers make up more than 2.5 million of Qatar’s 2.9 million population and labour conditions have been strongly criticised – particularly in the lead-up to the World Cup.
Doha has implemented reforms to its migrant labour system, but critics insist more work needs to be done to make sure the changes have an impact.
Qatar’s World Cup has also been dogged by accusations of corruption surrounding the FIFA members’ vote to award the tournament to the energy-rich Gulf state.