Belgium’s federal police is investigating allegations of bribery and Qatar’s illegal influence on Europe in a sprawling corruption scandal that is raising fears within EU circles that more cases are to come. European lawmaker Eva Kaili was the first suspect arrested on December 9 on charges of corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal organization with Qatar, after investigators uncovered over €1.5 million in cash in the Parliament’s office and residences in Belgium, France and Italy. She denies all charges. Three other EU officials, whose identities remain confidential, have since been detained, prompting concerns of bribery affecting other European chambers.
While he insists not all EU officials are corrupt, EU’s top anti-corruption official Daniel Freund raised concern about the possibility of bribery spreading to other institutions.
He told Express.co.uk: “If Qatar has decided that they want to change certain decisions and resolutions in the EU, my fear is that they will not only try to do it just with a few Social-Democrats.”
MEP Eva Kaili’s centre-left party would not have enough sway to change the outcome of a vote, Mr Freund said, given the Socialist and Democrats Party only have 145 seats of the 705-seat Parliament. However, he insisted the risk of collusion is real.
“Some of my colleagues might have at least been approached but whether or not that has been successful is a different question.”
Several MEPs, including the leftist official Manon Aubry from The Left party, have admitted to having discussions with Qatari officials who invited them to the World Cup in Doha. The Parliament President Roberta Metsola herself said she turned down an invitation by Qatar to attend a world cup game after behind-closed doors discussions with Qatari officials.
Those cases have fueled fears that the scale of corruption could be significantly more important, as other European institutions also take part in policy-making decisions.
Mr Freund said: “Those decisions are not taken by the European Parliament. There is a Commission proposal, there is vote in Parliament and there is also vote in the Council.
“If you want to get something through, you need approval of all legislatures. I don’t know. The investigation will have to show. But I think the fear is there that this might still get bigger.”
The co-chair of the European Parliament’s anti-corruption group added: “We know that this has happened in the past.”
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In 2012, the Council of Europe was rocked by the “Carviar diplomacy” scandal – a bribing strategy used by Azerbaijan – involving costly invitations to lavish events or simply gifts or cash to downplay the country’s human rights record.
The Azerbaijani regime gained influence by offering council members and other officials “expensive silk carpets, gold and silver items, drinks, caviar and money”, and luxurious vacations in Azerbaijan.
More recently, US intelligence found Russia has covertly spent more than $300million (£260million) since 2014 to influence politicians in more than 24 countries, including European Union countries.
Mr. Freund said: “Now, we have this case about Qatar. And I don’t think this is the last time a country attempts to do this.”
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