European parliament votes to suspend Qatar work, ban officials from premises
The European Parliament voted on Thursday to stop all legislative work related to Qatar and bar the country’s representatives from parliamentary premises, in a sign of the intensifying fallout the Gulf state faces after being tied to one of the European Union’s biggest corruption scandals.
Europe has been shaken by Belgian authorities’ investigation into allegations that members of the European Parliament took bribes from Qatar in exchange for influence.
Belgian authorities sparked the scandal by detaining six people last week in an operation where police seized more than $1.6m in cash.
Four of them - including an MEP from Greece and former European Parliament vice president, Eva Kaili - have been charged with "criminal organisation, corruption, and money laundering". The other two were released.
On Thursday, the parliament said it "denounces" Qatar’s alleged attempts to seek influence "through acts of corruption, which constitute serious foreign interference in the EU's democratic processes”.
Lawmakers voted 541 to two in favour of suspending work on Qatar, including a vote on a plan to grant Qatari citizens 90 days of visa-free travel in the EU.
Doha was also hoping to finalise a deal on flight rights that would have given Qatar Airways unlimited access to the EU’s aviation market. Thursday’s vote will have limited practical impact on the deal, which is already in effect while awaiting ratification by EU member states.
European Parliament president Roberta Metsola told EU leaders meeting for a summit in Brussels there were serious suspicions that "people linked to autocratic governments" were seeking to subvert EU democracy.
Qatari officials and Kaili have denied wrongdoing.
But Thursday’s vote comes as the scandal continues to build with more individuals and now Morocco allegedly implicated.
Belgian authorities have charged Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former member of the EU parliament and head of the NGO Fight Impunity, along with his wife and daughter, with money laundering and corruption. They were allegedly offered a holiday worth €100,000 by the Qataris.
Francesco Giorgi, who was in a relationship with Kaili and was arrested in connection to the scandal, confessed to accepting cash from an organisation used by Qatar and Morocco to influence European policy, according to the Belgian daily Le Soir, which cited court documents it viewed.
The scandal comes as Qatar finds itself in the global spotlight as the host of the World Cup.
MEPs have stated that in the lead-up to the event, Doha sought to exert influence over them, offering free trips to the Gulf state and World Cup tickets with the aim of limiting criticism of human rights issues inside the country.