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Sunday, Mar 03, 2024

Qatargate: Maria Arena quits as EU Parliament human rights chief

Qatargate: Maria Arena quits as EU Parliament human rights chief

Senior Socialist MEP insists she’s an innocent victim of political and media attacks as corruption claims engulf Brussels.
Senior MEP Maria Arena quit her role as chair of the European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights, blaming attacks by journalists and political rivals amid the continued Qatargate corruption scandal.

Her resignation came hours after POLITICO published an in-depth investigation into the committee, which revealed Arena had failed properly to declare free flights and accommodation she received from Qatar. The president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, has been informed of Arena’s decision, an EU official said.

In a statement sent to Belgian news agency Belga and seen by POLITICO, Arena said she was stepping down in order to protect her image and the work done by the European Parliament’s human rights committee, known in EU shorthand as DROI.

Earlier on Wednesday POLITICO reported that Arena was blaming her secretary for the failure to declare a paid-for trip to Qatar in May 2022. The committee is now at the center of allegations of corruption and money laundering. Three out of four suspects held on preliminary charges have links to the panel of MEPs. Arena is not one of the suspects and again insisted on Wednesday that she is in no way involved in the scandal engulfing Brussels.

“I proclaim loud and clear that I am not implicated in any way in this affair,” Arena wrote in the statement.

“But in light of the political and media attacks from the past few weeks that damage not only my image, but also all of the work done in the heart of the DROI subcommittee, I have decided to resign from the post of president,” she wrote. She added that neither her office nor her home have been raided by police, and that the Belgian authorities have not asked for her parliamentary immunity to be lifted, a necessary step prior to a criminal investigation.

The committee Arena has led since 2019 has ties to several of the people facing preliminary charges in the Belgian criminal investigation, including Pier Antonio Panzeri, the Italian former MEP who led the committee before her. Belgian police have raided several offices of current parliamentary staffers connected to the committee as part of their investigation.

When the corruption allegations first emerged last month, Arena said she would step down from chairing DROI temporarily — and it was not clear what that would mean in practical terms. Senior MEPs on the committee are due to meet on Thursday to discuss the next steps.
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