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EU lawmakers suspend work on Qatar files over graft scandal


European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, September 28, 2022. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

The European Parliament suspended all work on legislation linked to Qatar on Thursday, and its president told EU leaders she would lead reforms to prevent a repeat of a criminal corruption scandal that has rocked the assembly.

EU lawmakers backed by 541 votes to two a resolution saying they were “appalled” by the alleged corruption and money laundering by one of their number, a former lawmaker and a staff member.

The parliament said it “denounces” the Gulf state’s alleged attempts to seek influence “through acts of corruption, which constitute serious foreign interference in the EU’s democratic processes”.

Prosecutors suspect Greek MEP Eva Kaili and three others accepted bribes from World Cup host Qatar in a bid to influence European Union policymaking in one of the biggest scandals to hit the 27-nation bloc.

Qatar and Kaili, through a lawyer, have denied any wrongdoing.

The parliament said it would suspend all work on legislative files relating to Qatar, notably on visa liberalisation, an EU-Qatar aviation agreement and planned visits until the allegations had been confirmed or dismissed.

Qatari representatives would be barred from accessing parliament’s premises.

The lawmakers expressed concern about conflicts of interest from side-jobs, pressed for MEPs to declare their assets and for external financing of MEPs or staff to be prohibited, including a ban on donations from non-EU countries.

President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola told the 27 EU leaders meeting for a summit in Brussels there were serious suspicions that “people linked to autocratic governments” were seeking to subvert EU democracy.

Metsola, who acts as speaker of the parliament, promised to lead a “strong process of reform”, though she said she recognised there would always be some people “for whom a bag of cash is always worth the risk”.

“That is how we respond to re-build trust. Trust as we know takes years to build and moments to destroy,” she said, according to the text of her remarks to leaders.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo called the revelations “shocking”, while Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni said the bloc needed to react firmly.

Metsola told a news conference that parliament would look into who could enter its premises and at non-government organisations listed on its transparency register.

She said it had already struck off No Peace Without Justice, a campaign group whose secretary-general, Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, is one of the three others also charged with corruption and money laundering in the case.

No Peace Without Justice has said its secretary general had suspended himself from his role to safeguard the organisation and that the group trusted the investigation would show he had acted correctly.

Reuters could not reach the three suspects or their lawyers for comment. The non-profit organisation two of them work with has not responded to an emailed request seeking comment.