Qatar corruption scandal: Senior Belgian MEP resigns from EP human rights subcommittee

Qatar corruption scandal: Senior Belgian MEP resigns from EP human rights subcommittee
MEP Marie Arena. Credit: Belga / Paul-Henri Verlooy

A senior Belgian politician has resigned from her position as Chair of the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) with immediate effect, Belga News Agency has reported.

The news comes just hours after Politico reported that Maria Arena, a member of Belgium's Socialist Party (PS) and the European Parliament's Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group — the latter of which is at the very centre of a scandal that has convulsed European politics over the past month — had failed to properly declare that her accommodation and flights to and from Doha on 8 and 9 May last year had been paid for by the Qatari Government.

The news also follows Arena's decision to temporarily step down from her position as DROI Chair in December, after it was revealed that, between December 2021 and September last year, she had had almost four hundred telephone calls with former DROI Chair Antonio Panzeri: one of the key figures implicated in the scandal, according to which the Qatari Government is believed to have made payments to various senior political officials in exchange for their support for pro-Qatari policies.

In a statement to Belga News Agency, Marie Arena explained that her decision to resign was taken "in view of the politico-media attacks of recent weeks that are damaging not only my image, but also all the work carried out within the DROI Subcommittee."

She added that, unlike two of her fellow S&D MEPs suspected of involvement in the affair, namely Andrea Cozzolino and Marc Tarabella, "the Belgian authorities have not requested the lifting of my parliamentary immunity; neither my office nor my home has been searched, and I have not been questioned in any way by the justice system."

A suspicious trip

After being contacted by Belgian media about her failure to declare that the Qatari Government had itself funded her trip to the Gulf peninsula, Arena pointed that she had also failed to report similar journeys to Lebanon and Burkina Faso, and blamed her parliamentary assistant for failing to fill out the required expenses forms properly.

"It's true, I have made three trips by invitation since the beginning of my mandate," she told l'Echo. "The person who takes care of my statements in the transparency register, a rather complicated document to fill out, did not declare these trips because she didn't know it had to be done."

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Arena added that the situation is now "fixed, and the three trips are filled in", and also — seemingly irrelevantly — maintained that she had travelled to Doha in an economy class seat. She also told Le Soir that she didn't "consider this trip as a gift but a means of work, these two days were devoted to work meetings and not to relaxation."

"I declare loud and clear that I am not involved in this case in any way," Arena concluded. "The corruption scandal that is hitting the European Parliament is extremely serious and the people who are behind it must be severely punished."

De Standaard has since reported that PS President Paul Magnette did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday evening.

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