Belgian police searched 16 homes and detained four people in and around Brussels on Friday morning, as part of an investigation into lobbying by Qatar at the European Parliament.
A former Socialists & Democrats MEP and a high-ranking trade union official were among those detained by police and brought in for questioning, according to Belgian outlet Knack.
The searches were carried out as part of a wider investigation into “criminal organization, corruption and money laundering,” and primarily targeted parliamentary assistants, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
The raids threaten to risk causing a scandal for the European Parliament and the S&D group in particular, which has been criticized over its soft stance on Qatar in recent months.
The Gulf state has been the subject of recent controversy as the host of the ongoing 2022 World Cup, during which it has been criticized for its regressive policies toward LGBTQ+ rights and migrant workers.
“For several months, investigators from the Federal Judicial Police suspect a Gulf country of influencing the European Parliament’s (EP) economic and political decisions,” the prosecutor’s statement added.
Qatar is accused of targeting officials “with a significant political or strategic position” at the Parliament, sending them “substantial amounts of money” and “important gifts,” according to the prosecutor’s statement.
Qatar is a massive Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) producer and Western politicians have been trying to keep the country sweet as they try to find alternative sources of energy amid Russia’s war on Ukraine.
In a statement on Twitter, the S&D group said: “We are appalled by the allegations of corruption in EU institutions. We take a zero tolerance stance on corruption. We are the first to support a thorough investigation full disclosure, and will cooperate with all investigating authorities throughout.”
Belgian investigators are looking into whether Qatar sought to influence positions in the Parliament in ways that “go beyond classic lobbying,” according to Knack. The police seized “roughly €600,000 in cash,” cellphones and computer equipment in the raids.
The Qatari government did not have an immediate response to a request for comment when contacted by POLITICO.