BRUSSELS – The office of the Belgian federal prosecutor announced on Sunday that it has charged four people with corruption and other crimes as part of a major investigation into suspected bribes from Qatar to current and former officials and lawmakers in the European Parliament.
The prosecutor did not name any of the indictees, referring only to “a Gulf state” when the charges were announced in this case. But a Belgian official directly involved in the case said Qatar would be the country involved. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the news media.
The prosecutor said that of the six people taken for questioning on Friday, two were released without charge. The Belgian authorities raided 16 homes on Friday and searched one home on Saturday. They seized a bag containing 600,000 euros ($632,000) in cash, as well as 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 offered large sums of money or substantial gifts to influence Parliament’s decisions,” the Belgian public prosecutor’s office said in a statement on Sunday.
The Belgian official and European Parliament officials said that of the six people admitted on Friday, one was Eva Kaili, a high-profile European lawmaker 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 a European legislator; Luca Visentini, the recently elected leader of the International Trade Union Confederation, the global labor union; Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former member of the European Parliament; and Mrs. Kaili’s father, Alexandros. The identity of the sixth person is unknown.
The investigation comes as Qatar hosts the men’s World Cup under heightened scrutiny.
The scandal is likely to embarrass the government of Qatar, which has drawn criticism for the exploitation of migrant workers who helped build the tournament’s infrastructure. In addition, the authoritarian country’s criminalization of homosexuality has become a focal point between some Western teams and fans and FIFA, the governing body for world football. And corruption was also a point of attention.
“The State of Qatar categorically rejects any attempts to associate it with allegations of wrongdoing,” Qatar’s embassy to the European Union said in a statement on Sunday. “Any association with the government of Qatar with the reported claims is baseless and seriously misinformed.”
The Belgian public prosecutor said on Sunday that the charges against the four arrested were corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal organization.
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The Belgian newspaper Les Echo first reported on Sunday that one of the four was Mrs Kaili. Le Soir reported that Ms. Kaili’s father and Mr. Visentini were the two people released on Sunday. DailyExpertNews could not independently confirm this information.
On Saturday night, police searched the home of another MEP, Belgian Marc Tarabella, in the presence of the body’s president, Roberta Metsola, in accordance with immunity rules that protect sitting members, the prosecutor said and Mrs. Metsola’s office.
No one was arrested during the house search on Saturday evening, the public prosecutor said.
Ms. Metsola has asked Ms. Kaili to step down as Vice President. She was expelled from her party, the centre-left Pasok of Greece, on Saturday and suspended from her European Parliament group, the Socialists & Democrats.
The parliament has agreed to suspend any vote or discussion related to Qatar, such as the visa rules for Qataris in the European Union.
Mr Panzeri, the former MP who was also detained, was once a member of the Socialists & Democrats group. The office of his non-governmental organization, Fight Impunity, did not respond to a request for comment.
The International Trade Union Confederation, of which Mr Visentini was head, declined to comment on the matter.
Colleagues of Mr Giorgi in the European Parliament and his boss there, Andrea Cozzolino from Italy, did not respond to an email asking for comment.
A spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office did not have the names of the lawyers of those questioned. DailyExpertNews called and messaged Ms. Kaili’s number several times, but it was turned off. In a Facebook post to The Times about the investigation, Ms Kaili’s sister, Mantalena Kaili, said there was “no news yet from our side”.
The European Parliament is one of the three main institutions of the European Union. Although generally considered the least powerful, legislators are often approached by lobbyists from countries, industries and interest groups seeking to influence public opinion about their goals and find allies in the space where important policies are discussed.
Ms. Kaili was a vocal supporter of Qatar in the months leading up to the World Cup and recently visited on an official trip.
“Today, the World Cup in Qatar is actually proof of how sports diplomacy can bring about a historic transformation of a country with reforms that have inspired the Arab world,” Ms Kaili said in a speech to the European Parliament last month. “I only said that Qatar is a leader in labor rights.”
“Yet some call here to discriminate against them,” Ms Kaili said of the European approach to Qatar. “They bully them and accuse anyone who talks to them or engages in corruption.”