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Union chief resigns following Qatar-EU corruption probe

ITUC head Luca Visentini admits he took a 50,000 euro donation from NGO at the heart of European Parliament scandal
A woman walks near the entrance of the European Parliament in Brussels (AFP)
A woman walks near the entrance of the European Parliament in Brussels (AFP)

The head of a major international trade union has resigned after admitting he took 50,000 euros ($53,000) from an NGO at the centre of a European Parliament corruption scandal involving Qatar and Morocco.

The General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Luca Visentini said on Tuesday he took the cash from Fight Impunity, an NGO founded by Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former MEP who has been arrested and charged with corruption and money laundering. 

Visentini, who denies wrongdoing, had been in the job for less than a month.

Prosecutors have alleged that Panzeri used Fight Impunity to finance a web of corruption in the European Parliament on behalf of Qatar and Morocco. The Gulf state has denied any role in the scandal.

“I have accepted a donation from Fight Impunity for a sum lower than €50,000, which was aimed at reimbursing some of the costs incurred to finance my campaign for the ITUC congress and I have transferred the sum to the ITUC solidarity fund in order to pay for the union’s travel costs [to Melbourne]," he said in a statement.

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“I accepted the donation in cash [because of Panzeri’s good reputation] and its no-profit nature - it was in no way connected to a corruption attempt or aimed at influencing my position on Qatar."

Visentini was previously detained for questioning during a series of raids by Belgian police that uncovered around 1.5 million euros ($1,590,000) in cash but was released without charge while remaining a suspect.

Four other suspects linked to the European Parliament, including Greek MEP Eva Kaili, have been charged.

'Failing to speak out'

Rights groups have criticised the ITUC's reports into labour rights abuses in Qatar, which they say have played down violations compared to reports by other workers' rights organisations.

In early November, the human rights monitor FairSquare wrote a letter to ITUC's previous General Secretary Sharan Burrows in which it raised concerns that the organisation was failing to "speak out against serious abuses by the Qatari authorities”.

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"We have been increasingly concerned by statements that have either exaggerated the effectiveness of legal reforms in Qatar or downplayed the seriousness or prevalence of ongoing human rights abuses. We are also concerned by the ITUC’s continuing failure to scrutinise the actions of the Qatari authorities," read the letter.

"This has extended to not calling for the release or fair trial of individuals whom Qatari authorities detained and prosecuted after they criticised Qatar’s record on migrant workers’ rights."

In particular, the group criticised claims by the ITUC that Qatar's kafala system, which gives employers extensive powers over employees, including their right to change jobs and to leave the country, was "dead".

In a statement last week, ITUC denied that Qatar had at any point influenced its assessments of the country, which it said were based on "objective analysis and assessment of the facts".

"Any suggestion that any other entity, from Qatar or anywhere else, has influenced the ITUC’s position is entirely false," said the statement.

The ITUC was formed in 2006 and represents 207 million workers through its 331 affiliated organisations worldwide.

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