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Belgium detains four over suspected Qatar bribes at EU parliament

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Sunday, 11 December, 2022, 20:18
Belgium detains four over suspected Qatar bribes at EU parliament

Belgium on Friday detained four people including a former MEP as part of a probe into suspected bribery by Qatar at the European parliament, officials said.

The federal prosecutor announced the arrests after 600,000 euros in cash was discovered when police carried out 16 raids in the capital Brussels.

The prosecutors did not specify the identities of the suspects or name the country involved, saying only that it was a "Gulf" state.

But a source close to the case confirmed press reports it was focused on suspected attempts by Qatar to corrupt an Italian Socialist who was a member of the European parliament from 2004 to 2019.

The four people detained were either Italian citizens or originally came from Italy, the source said.

"Today's searches have enabled investigators to recover about 600,000 euros in cash," the prosecutors said in a statement.

"Computer equipment and mobile phones were also seized. These elements will be analysed as part of the investigations."

The statement said investigators "suspected a Gulf country (of influencing) the economic and political decisions of the European parliament".

It alleged this was done "by paying large sums of money or offering large gifts to" influential figures in the European parliament.

"Four people were arrested for questioning and may be brought before the investigating judge," prosecutors said.

"Among those questioned was a former member of the European parliament."

Belgian outlets Le Soir and Knack reported the former MEP detained was the Italian socialist Pier Antonio Panzeri.

Panzeri, 67, currently heads a Brussels-based human rights organisation called Fight Impunity.

According to the reports, the secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Italian Luca Visentini, was also among those arrested, along with "a parliamentary assistant" and "an NGO director".

The ITUC said it was "aware" of the media reports, but had no further comment to make at present.

The alleged bribery comes as World Cup host Qatar has made a major push to improve its image in the face of criticism over its record on worker protections and human rights.

Interviewed by AFP on Monday, Visentini welcomed progress made by Qatar on worker rights but insisted "pressure" needed to be maintained once the football tournament finishes.

Migrant workers make up more than 2.5 million of Qatar's 2.9 million population and labour conditions have been strongly criticised -- particularly in the lead-up to the World Cup.

Doha has implemented reforms to its migrant labour system, but critics insist more work needs to be done to make sure the changes have an impact.

Qatar's World Cup has also been dogged by accusations of corruption surrounding the vote to award the tournament to the energy-rich Gulf state.