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Belgium makes EU parliament arrests in Qatar corruption probe

#Belgium #parliament #arrests #Qatar #corruption #probe

Belgian police arrested Greek socialist MEP Eva Kaili, a European Parliament vice-president, in connection with an investigation into corruption implicating World Cup hosts Qatar, the prosecutors office said Friday.

The arrest came hours after four other suspects were detained in connection with the same case. All four were either Italian citizens or originally came from Italy, a source close to the case told AFP.

Kaili is the partner of one of the four, a parliamentary assistant with the European Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats group, said the source.

A statement issued earlier by Belgian prosecutors mentioned a Gulf country as part of its investigation without naming it, and while it said a former MEP was among those arrested did not identify him.

But Belgian press reports said the country concerned was Qatar, and named the former MEP as Italy’s Pier-Antonio Panzeri, who served as a socialist in the parliament between 2004 and 2019.

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 euros 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.

– Workers rights controversy –

A source close to the case confirmed press reports that the investigation was into suspected attempts by Qatar to corrupt an Italian Socialist former MEP, who Belgian outlets Le Soir and Knack named as Panzeri.

Panzeri, 67, currently heads a Brussels-based human rights organisation called Fight Impunity. 

According to the reports, the secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Italian Luca Visentini, was also among those arrested. The ITUC said it was “aware” of the media reports, but had no further comment to make at present. 

The alleged bribery 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. 

Interviewed by AFP on Monday, Visentini welcomed progress made by Qatar on worker rights, but insisted “pressure” needed to be maintained once the football tournament finishes.

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 vote to award the tournament to the energy-rich Gulf state.

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#Belgium #parliament #arrests #Qatar #corruption #probe

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