A Qatari official told Doha News that Qatar ‘categorically’ rejects any attempt to associate the Gulf country with misconduct.
Two Belgian members of the European Parliament admitted they had failed to disclose paid trips to Qatar this week, as authorities in Doha said such visits are frequently organised and publicly announced.
The attorney for Belgian socialist MEP Marc Tarabella revealed on Sunday that his client had visited Qatar in February 2020 at Qatar’s cost but had not reported the trip as required by parliament regulations.
The news comes four days after Maria Arena, a fellow Social and Democrats member from Belgium, acknowledged that she had “forgotten” to disclose a similar expense-paid trip to Qatar in May 2022, according to reports.
“He was invited (to Qatar) for a congress. The organisers paid,” Tarabella’s lawyer Maxim Toller told Belgian broadcaster RTL on Sunday.
“He hasn’t declared it yet… He then went to Ghana and then there was Covid… His colleague reminded him to do it but time ran out,” Toller said.
“There is nothing illegal about a trip paid for by an organisation,” Toller said, noting Tarabella had travelled to Qatar to view some of the stadiums built for the FIFA World Cup and “meet workers”.
The MEP in November had told the European Parliament that the Gulf nation had made “positive” changes in improving human rights.
In a statement sent to Doha News, a government official said such trips are standard.
“Like many governments, we frequently organise visits to Qatar for foreign officials and members of parliamentary groups,” the official said.
“These trips are announced publicly and provide an opportunity for visitors to discuss important topics with government officials, academics, representatives from NGOs and international organisations such as the ILO, and members of the public, so that they can form their own opinions and develop a better-informed view of Qatar.”
“There is no expectation that their opinions will be positive – our aim is only to have a constructive dialogue and show them the reality on the ground,” the official told Doha News, adding that Qatar “categorically” rejects any attempt to associate the Gulf country with misconduct.
The homes of MEPs, former MEPs, and lobbyists were the targets of several raids by Belgian police in December, which netted a total of $1.6 million in cash.
Sensitive information that appears to be related to the corruption scandal has been reported regularly in the press.
There are rumours that the funds were connected to purported corruption in the European Parliament benefitting Qatar, though Doha has vehemently rejected the claims since the scandal first emerged last month.
The ongoing investigation alleges that the officials took money, trips, and gifts, as part of efforts to lobby for Qatar at the European Parliament, alluding to Doha’s alleged role in influencing the parliament’s policy-making, France’s Le Monde reported.
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”.
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.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament announced early January that it had started the process of waiving the immunity of two of its members in response to a request from the Belgian judiciary investigating the corruption scandal.
The two MEPs were identified as Belgian Marc Tarabella and Italian Andrea Cozzolino.
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 month, 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.