Fifa president Gianni Infantino and currently imprisoned Greek MEP Eva Kaili made a number of similar statements in separate speeches praising Qatar last month.
On December 9th, Belgian police arrested Ms Kaili as part of an investigation, which has been dubbed Qatargate, and is suspected of accepting “large sums of money” in return for illicit lobbying in favour of Qatar. She was subsequently charged with participation in a criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption.
On November 21st, Ms Kaili spoke at the European Parliament in a debate “on the situation of human rights in the context of the World Cup in Qatar”. Almost every talking point raised in her 90-second speech would have sounded familiar to anyone who had listened to the one-hour speech delivered by Mr Infantino, at his press conference in Doha on November 19th, the day before the tournament began.
“It is suspected that third parties in political and/or strategic positions within the European Parliament were paid large sums of money or offered substantial gifts to influence parliament’s decisions,” stated the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office last Sunday.
Two days after Infantino’s controversial address, when he began by saying he felt “African”, “gay”, “disabled”, and like a “migrant worker”, Ms Kaili also cited the International Labour Organisation in praise of Qatari labour reforms, including the abolishment of the Kafala system in 2016 and introduction of a minimum wage.
[ Europe Letter: Qatargate causes upheaval and suspicion in European Parliament ]
Both referred to “European companies” making “billions” in Qatar by exploiting previous labour market rules in the Gulf region. Both referred to Europe’s interest in Qatari “gas”.
Both suggested that European critics of Qatar should stop “bullying” and “discriminating” and should instead “engage” with Qatar. Both referred to the failure of European migration policy, with Infantino stating that “25,000 migrants since 2014″ coming into Europe have died or gone missing.
Both questioned Europe’s right to dispense “moral lessons” or “lectures” to Qatar. Both mentioned Qatar’s assistance in an initiative to rescue female Afghan refugees when the Taliban regained power in 2021.
Ms Kaili has been remanded in a Belgian prison until next week, when she will find out whether she will be released on bail pending a trial. Her lawyer has said she is innocent and denied “false rumours” that she had received bribes from Qatar.
A Belgian judicial source told Agence France-Presse that €150,000 was found in Ms Kaili’s flat, €600,000 in her partner’s home, and €750,000 in her father’s hotel room.
MEPs voted on Wednesday to remove Ms Kaili as one of the European Parliament’s 14 vice-presidents.
Mr Infantino is holding a press conference on Friday at 9.30am (Irish time), his first sitting with the general media since November 21st.