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Shock and dismay among EU chiefs over European Parliament corruption scandal

Prosecutors searched 16 houses and seized 600,000 euros ($631,800) in Brussels on Friday as part of the probe, which has triggered calls for more oversight of European policy making.

Four people were arrested and charged with “participation in a criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption,” prosecutors said in a statement on Sunday.

They did not name the suspects, but a source close to the case said one of the European Parliament’s vice presidents, Greek socialist Eva Kaili, was amongst those charged. Her office did not respond to a request for a comment.

The European Parliament said at the weekend it had suspended Kaili from her duties. The Greek socialist PASOK party said it was expelling her from its ranks.

“Certainly the news is very worrisome,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters as he arrived at a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the “full force of law” had to be brought to bear in the case. “This is about the credibility of Europe, so this has to trigger consequences in various areas,” she said.

Prosecutors said they had suspected for months that a Gulf state was trying to buy influence in Brussels.

A source with knowledge of the case said the state was Qatar. A Qatari official denied at the weekend accusations of possible misconduct.

“Any association of the Qatari government with the reported claims is baseless and gravely misinformed,” the official said.

The investigation comes as Qatar is in the global spotlight as it hosts the World Cup, amid criticism from human rights groups, which the country rejects.

In a speech in the European Parliament on Nov. 21, as the World Cup was starting, Kaili said: “Qatar is a frontrunner in labour rights.”

“They committed to a vision by choice and they opened to the world. Still some here are calling to discriminate them.  They bully them and they accuse everyone that talks to them or engages (with them) of corruption,” Kaili said.

“They helped us and they are peace negotiators, they are good neighbours and partners. We can help each other to overcome the shortcomings. They achieved the impossible already.”

As they arrived at Monday’s EU meeting, which was scheduled to focus on Russia and Iran sanctions, ministers were quick to condemn the alleged corruption.

“It is absolutely unacceptable, any kind of corruption,” said Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky.

“Qatar is an important  partner for the energy of the EU,” he noted, while adding: “Of course the relation between the EU and Qatar needs to be built on a set of policies including human rights and labor rights.”

Some European diplomats told Reuters last month that pressure to maintain good ties with Qatar was increasing as the continent headed towards a winter of energy shortages because of the war in Ukraine.

The European Parliament was due to vote this week on a proposal to extend visa-free travel to the EU for Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Ecuador.

Some lawmakers have suggested the debate and vote should be postponed. Others havecalled for a debate on the corruption raids. The European Parliament is set to look at both requests in a session that starts at 1600 GMT.

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