Belgium indicts four people as part of a corruption probe in the European Parliament

BRUSSELS, Dec 11 (Reuters) – A Belgian judge on Sunday charged four people with allegedly receiving money and gifts from a Gulf state to influence decisions in the European Parliament, allegations that have sparked dismay in Brussels.

Prosecutors in Brussels on Friday raided 16 homes and seized 600,000 euros ($631,800) as part of investigations into money laundering and corruption.

Six people were initially arrested. Four were charged and two released, prosecutors said in a statement. They did not name those involved.

Prosecutors said they had suspected for months a Gulf state was trying to influence decisions in Brussels. A source with knowledge of the case said the state is the World Cup host Qatar.

A Qatari official dismissed allegations of possible wrongdoing.

“Any association by the Qatari government with the reported claims is unfounded and seriously misinformed,” the official said, adding that Qatar has worked through institution-to-institution commitment and in full compliance with international laws.

The European Parliament said over the weekend it had suspended the powers and duties of one of its vice-presidents, Greek socialist Eva Kaili, in light of the Belgian investigation.

The Greek socialist PASOK party said in a statement that it was expelling Kaili from its ranks.

It was not immediately clear if she had been charged in the case. Her office did not answer phone calls, nor did she respond to an email asking for comment.

Prosecutors said they also searched the home of a second MEP on Saturday without arresting anyone. Belgian Socialist Party member Marc Tarabella confirmed that it was his home and that a computer and a mobile phone had been stolen.

“The judiciary is doing its job of gathering information and investigating, which I find perfectly normal. I have absolutely nothing to hide and will respond to any questions investigators may have,” he said in a statement.

EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told Italian TV channel Rai 3 the case appeared “very serious”.

“Should it be confirmed that someone took money to influence the opinion of the European Parliament, it would really be one of the most dramatic corruption stories in recent years,” he added.

The European Parliament is 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 postponing the debate and vote.

($1 = 0.9497 euros)

Reporting by Philip Blindinsop; additional reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha, George Georgiopoulos in Athens, Andreas Rinke in Berlin and Keith Weir; Editing by Crispian Balmer

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