The Gulf state had dismissed all “gravely misinformed” claims made against it in the developing scandal.
Estonian Members of European Parliament (MEP) took aim at “disproportionate” attacks against Qatar over leaks pointing to its alleged involvement in the ongoing European Parliament’s corruption scandal.
Speaking to Estonia’s broadcaster ERR on Tuesday, MEP’s Andrus Ansip and Urmas Paet refuted claims alluding to Doha’s alleged role in influencing the parliament’s policy-making, made by France’s Le Monde last week.
The French paper cited text in which the European Parliament expressed its concern over possible alterations to a number of resolutions “by corruption and undue influence” that has been blamed on Qatar.
Doha has vehemently rejected the claims since the scandal first emerged earlier this month.
The article pointed to Ansip and Paet’s alleged role in opting out of approving a resolution criticising the Gulf state’s alleged human rights record ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2022.
Le Monde cited Ansip’s previous comments in which he described the legislation as “disproportionate” to Doha’s positive developments, with both Estonian officials denying any Qatar-related influence.
Paet called out the French outlet for “signaling out a few names”, describing it as “random and unprofessional” given that he was not contacted for a comment. He also denied receiving money from Qatar.
“The question is inappropriate to begin with. The short answer is no,” Paet stressed.
Votes on Qatar’s human rights record was part of a wider campaign to criticise the Gulf state in the lead up to the World Cup.
Qatar has repeatedly stressed that it has responded to criticism by introducing major reform, most notably the dismantling of the controversial kafala, or sponsorship, system.
However, scrutiny continued even throughout the sports tournament, with officials in Qatar and beyond saying western media has largely disregarded key labour reform in the country.
“We must unequivocally condemn corruption, while we must also commend progress made in Qatar,” Ansip said.
Echoing previous statements on what many described as an “unprecedented campaign” targeting Qatar, Ansip noted that the EU did not criticise other World Cup host nations despite their concerning rights records.
The Estonian highlighted the double standard approach by the bloc, which failed to hold to account Russia when it hosted the World Cup in 2018, despite its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
“I do not hold it to be proportional bringing all guns to bear against Qatar, while forgetting about Russia’s Ukraine aggression and the fact it got to hold the World Cup. Just as we overlook human rights violations in China and accept the Olympic games having taken place there,” Ansip said.
“In other words, it comes off hypocritical,” he added.
Paet said the resolution was rushed and failed to consider Qatar’s key position with regards to the European bloc, as well as its significant role in all votes regarding the ongoing Russian war on Ukraine.
He described the war in Ukraine as “the most important foreign policy topic” for the EU and the European Parliament.
“A few of the proposals did not sit well with me, especially considering other aspects of international affairs had been overlooked. I am first and foremost referring to the country’s [Qatar’s] attitude toward Russia’s aggression in Ukraine,” Paet told ERR.
Paet noted that Qatar is “one of only a few countries” in the region that votes in line with EU’s resolutions on the conflict, ERR reported.
“For example, this aspect, which I find to be of crucial importance, was completely overlooked in the case of this resolution,” Paet said.
Taking aim at Le Monde’s critique, Ansip stressed that he does “not deem sensible attempts to incite herd mentality, suppress plurality of opinion and free speech”.
“In a situation where the EU was fine with Russia holding the football World Cup after it annexed Crimea, I find it disproportional to have nothing but criticism for Qatar,” Ansip added.
The major scandal struck the European Parliament at the beginning of December after authorities in Brussels arrested six people and seized at least €600,000 in cash.
European Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili was removed from her position as her name began circulating in media reports as an alleged key suspect in the case.
The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office sent a media statement at the beginning of the scandal, saying the police “suspected a Gulf country of influencing economic and political decisions of the European Parliament.”
Citing media leaks, reports were quick to claim Qatar, Morocco, and Bahrain’s alleged involvement in the scandal. Earlier this month, a diplomat at Qatar’s EU mission told Doha News that the information leaked to the media was inaccurate.
The official added that “it is deeply concerning for those responsible for the leaks have neglected their commitment to justice and truth in pursuit of self-serving objectives.”
Ansip said none of the countries named influenced him, denying that he ever went to Qatar. He said he merely spent an hour in Doha for a connecting flight to Copenhagen.
“All of these questions; how many times have you been to Qatar, who paid for your flight and stay, whether you have received cash from Qatar, Kuwait, Morocco or Bahrain – all are insulting and inappropriate,” Ansip said.
Meanwhile, Paet said his membership of the friends of Qatar group in the European Parliament has been part of his work in foreign policy, noting he holds similar positions elsewhere.
While the investigation is still ongoing, members of the European Parliament already voted to suspend Qatari representatives’ access to its premises.
A diplomat at Qatar’s EU mission told Doha News at the time that the decision “will negatively effect regional and global security cooperation, as well as ongoing discussions around global energy poverty and security.”
Last week, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani stressed Doha’s “rejection” of misleading media leaks in a meeting with the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.
In a statement, Qatar’s foreign ministry said that the senior Qatari diplomat underlined “the need to respect the judicial procedures and not to anticipate the results of the investigations.”
Sheikh Mohammed also stressed “Qatar’s rejection of the misleading media leaks that drag its name in this matter” during his meeting with Borrell.