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4 people are charged with corruption in a bribery inquiry linked to Qatar


A top European Union lawmaker is in jail. She's one of four people charged by Belgian prosecutors with taking bribes from a Gulf State. The prosecutor did not name the state, but Belgian media have identified it as World Cup host Qatar. Teri Schultz reports from Brussels.

TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: Last month, European Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili gave a glowing speech about Qatar on the floor of the EU legislature.


EVA KAILI: They are a new generation of intelligent, high-educated people, and they are peace negotiators. They are good neighbors and partners.

SCHULTZ: She also criticized fellow EU lawmakers who didn't share that view.


KAILI: Still, some here are calling to discriminate them. They bully them, and they accuse everyone that talks to them or engages of corruption.

SCHULTZ: Saturday, Kaili was arrested on charges of corruption after Belgian police found 600,000 euros stashed in her house. Now she and her partner, a parliamentary adviser, are among those jailed, also accused of money laundering and participation in a criminal organization. She's been kicked out of her political party in Greece and has been suspended from her vice presidential duties. All of this came just a few days before the European Parliament was scheduled to vote on starting negotiations to grant visa-free travel to citizens of Qatar and three other countries. But many lawmakers now call for the matter to be reexamined. Among them is Erik Marquardt, a key player in drafting the proposed legislation.

ERIK MARQUARDT: You cannot act like you have a great partnership with a country that is attacking your democracy with corruption.

SCHULTZ: Marquardt says Kaili approached him personally on the matter, and he was struck by her lack of subtlety.

MARQUARDT: It was very obvious that she was very much in favor of giving the visa waiver to Qatar very fast, with not so many conditions. But she was not so interested in the other countries.

SCHULTZ: Alberto Alemanno is an EU lawyer who's long campaigned for lobbying transparency and reform. He suggests improvements as simple as making parliamentarians declare all their meetings. He says, while rules exist, enforcement and consequences are too weak and that no one should be shocked this happened.

ALBERTO ALEMANNO: Hopefully, this scandal will lead to a great reckoning that will create the political appetite that has always been lacking within the European institution to further enhance and upgrade the current ethical system.

SCHULTZ: Qatar, which is currently hosting the World Cup, has released a statement saying it categorically rejects any attempts to associate it with accusations of misconduct. It says, any such association is, quote, "baseless and gravely misinformed."

For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz in Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.