The European Parliament has postponed a vote that would allow Qatari citizens to travel visa-free to the EU. Qatar Airways' agreement with Brussels will also be reviewed

Qatar under scrutiny following EU corruption case

AFP/FREDERICK FLORIN - Members of the European Parliament attend a debate on "Qatar's corruption suspicions and the increased need for transparency and accountability in EU institutions"

Qatargate continues to be in the spotlight of European politics. After the dismissal of Eva Kaili as Vice-President of the European Parliament, the Belgian police are continuing their investigations and searches. Since the raids on homes and offices in Brussels began last weekend, authorities have already seized a total of 1.5 million euros from the homes of Kaili and former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri.

The Belgian media Le Soir and Knack have published exclusive images of the confiscated money, mostly divided into 50 and 20 euro notes. In addition to the bags of cash, Le Soir reports that police found valuables in Kaili's home that are believed to have been handed over by senior Qatari officials. 


According to another Belgian newspaper, L'Echo, the investigations are now focusing on finding out where part of the banknotes were issued, as knowing where they were issued will make it easier to find the bank where the notes were withdrawn, and thus to trace the bank account and the identity of the person who withdrew the amount.

For the moment, the former Vice-President of the European Parliament and the former Italian MEP, as well as Francesco Giorgi - Kaili's partner and Panzeri's advisor - and Niccolo Figa-Talamanca are under arrest and charged on suspicion of receiving large sums of money from a "Persian Gulf state".  


However, one of Kaili's lawyers, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos has assured a Greek television channel, Open TV, that his client "did not accept any bribe from Qatar". "He is innocent. He has nothing to do with the Qatari bribes," he stressed. The lawyer also told AFP that the former vice-president of the European Parliament "did not know about the existence of the money" found in her house. "Only her partner (Francesco Giorgi) can give answers about the existence of this money," he added.

All the suspects are trying to dissociate themselves from a scandal that has deeply shaken the European Union, which is now trying to restore confidence and credibility to citizens. The President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, has declared that "European democracy is under attack", lamenting that "there are third countries that can buy us".  

After criticism on labour and human rights, a new front opens for Qatar 

Although Qatar has also denied its involvement in the case, all eyes are on the Gulf monarchy, which seems to have been involved in one scandal after another. After several months in the spotlight over the treatment of migrant workers who built the 2022 World Cup facilities - as well as its rules for the competition - Doha is facing new allegations, this time related to interference in EU internal affairs

As POLITICO points out, with this new corruption scandal, Qatar "scores an own goal" shortly before MEPs voted in favour of allowing Qatari and Kuwaiti citizens to travel to EU countries without visas. Because of 'Qatargate', Metsola announced that the report on opening visas for both nations "should be sent back to the Committee for analysis and consideration".  

Had the corruption scandal not been exposed, the European Parliament would most likely have approved the visa waiver for Qataris, showing that Kaili is not the only MEP sympathetic to the Qatari government. Several senior EU officials and activists have told POLITICO that "more names" would be added to the list of those arrested and charged in the case. "The Qatar bribery scandal is symptomatic of a much deeper and more widespread problem of corruption, not only in the European Parliament, but in all EU institutions," they explain.  


Indeed, the European Commission, chaired by Ursula von der Leyen, is also in the eye of the storm, as Schinas recently travelled to the country to represent the EU during the opening ceremony of the World Cup.  Amid the corruption scandal, von der Leyen has refused to answer questions about her vice-president's relationship with Doha, while Schinas has denied any links to the case.  

As well as postponing a vote on whether to approve a visa waiver for Qatari nationals, Qatargate has prompted MEPs to call for a review of Qatar Airways' agreement with the EU. MEPs on the Transport Committee want to check that the deal was negotiated in a "transparent and impartial" manner.  

Europe's far right uses scandal to criticise Brussels 

The continent's Eurosceptic leaders seem to be rejoicing over the corruption case plaguing the European Parliament. In addition to an ironic tweet from Hungary's President Viktor Orbán, France's far-right leader Marine Le Pen has also weighed in.

"We were dragged through the mud because of a completely transparent and perfectly legal loan from a Czech-Russian bank. Meanwhile, Qatar was handing over suitcases full of cash to all these corrupt so-called 'good side' crooks. Shame on you," Le Pen wrote on her Twitter account. The National Rally chairwoman was referring to a 9 million euro loan her party received in 2014.  

Several Polish MEPs from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party have also taken advantage of the situation to slam Brussels and its policies. "Where is the problem of the rule of law - in Poland or in the European Union?" asked Dominik Tarczyński. Another PiS member, Bogdan Rzońca, pointed out that the European Parliament "is not a transparent institution"