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12° Nicosia,
24 May, 2024
 
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Missing link in Qatargate broached in Cyprus

MP and transparency advocate Irene Charalambides urges Cypriot MEP to speak with Belgian authorities

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A lawmaker and transparency advocate in Cyprus is calling on a Cypriot MEP to clarify earlier comments about his Greek colleague Eva Kaili, who remains in custody in connection with a corruption probe in the European parliament.

AKEL MP Irene Charalambides took to social media on Thursday calling on Cypriot MEP Loucas Fourlas to clarify whether he informed authorities about changes in a Qatar report that were allegedly requested by Kaili.

“Dear Loucas Fourlas, have you informed Belgian prosecuting authorities about the amendments which, as you stated publicly, Ms Eva Kaili asked you to forward to the committee and to your credit you refused to do so?” Charalambides wrote on Facebook.

Earlier this week, Fourlas told Greek Cypriot media that staff from Kaili’s office had contacted him on October 13, asking him to submit two amendments for a Qatar report that was being put together by a civil liberties committee.

The two changes, according to the Cypriot conservative MEP, had to do with labor and homosexuality issues in Qatar, where Fourlas says Kaili was seeking praise for the Gulf state’s progress.

Cyprus was also the center of attention a decade ago in connection with Qatar, when a land sale in a privileged location in midtown Nicosia raised eyebrows

But Fourlas refused to submit the changes after consulting with Nicosia.

“After contacting and coordinating with Cyprus’ Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Mr Kornelios Korneliou, I refused to submit the changes in question as I took them to be against my own positions regarding work conditions in Qatar,” Fourlas said.

The Cypriot MEP, a known critic of Doha, has been following the issue of Qatar, which he considers an ally of Turkey.

Back in March Fourlas submitted a question to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on the issue, citing a report by The Guardian and saying 6500 migrant workers had died in Qatar since 2010.

“It would appear that these fatalities are not only due to accidents and that many of them can be attributed to the parlous working and living conditions of labourers who are ‘crammed’ into containers and made to toil for hours in very high temperatures,” Fourlas wrote.

Confusion over EU stance towards Qatar

EU lawmakers on Thursday voted to block Qatari representatives from getting access to the hemicycle's premises following allegations that Doha tried to buy influence in Brussels, an allegation Qatar has vehemently denied.

Kaili, whose Italian male partner reportedly admitted storing illicit cash as a favor to his political mentor, another Italian politician, was herself criticized for speaking in favorable terms about Qatar.

But the Greek MEP has denied any connection to bribes from Doha while her lawyers point out that Kaili was speaking about Qatar on behalf of the European Commission, as well as European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, who is also half Greek.

Last month Cypriot EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides also broached the subject of Qatar, just weeks before the media could take notice of a secret corruption probe in Brussels.

In a speech that was delivered on behalf of and prepared by the European External Action Service for HRVP Borrell, during a full session in Strasburg, Kyriakides cited the International Labour Organisation and said 50 people had died in work-related accidents in Qatar, adding “each single one of those deaths is of course a tragedy.”

“But Qatar has also made significant progress on labor rights over the past years,” Kyriakides said, adding that it was the first Gulf state to dismantle the slavery-like “kefala system” and “adopted a new law establishing a non-discriminatory minimum wage.”

Kyriakides also said there was need for improvement in living conditions for migrant workers, better data collection of work-related fatalities and injuries, while also raising concerns around the rights of LGBTI+ persons including visitors and football fans in Qatar, where homosexuality remains illegal.

“So yes, the human rights path for Qatar is far from complete. And, as for any other country, it is a continuous journey that will never be finished,” Kyriakides said, adding that it was important for Europeans to “remain engaged and continue to encourage the Qatari authorities to address those remaining challenges.”

The Cypriot commissioner also called out companies that were still resisting reforms in Qatar, including western multinational companies.

Cypriot deals with Qatar

According to media reports, Cypriot-registered contractor company Avax was among those that won construction bids for the world cup in the Gulf state.

Avax, which reemerged after Cypriot J&P went belly up following a dispute between the two owner families, was a major stakeholder in constructing the Qatar Foundation Stadium.

Cyprus was also the center of attention a decade ago in connection with Qatar, when a land sale in a privileged location in midtown Nicosia raised eyebrows.

In a TV interview this week, Charalambides pointed to a NETFLIX program that asked how Qatar got to host World Cup 2022, adding that Cypriot authorities failed to follow through and probe suspicious activities by officials.

“So, this whole situation also involved a case in Cyprus with a land purchase costing the Qataris €32 million, and after all the mayhem, I saw no probe in all of this,” the MP said.

Charalambides was referring to land near the former Hilton in Nicosia where the Cypriot Land Registry had produced a €134 million valuation, but the buyers suspected the quote was unreliable.

“What was the actual value of this plot that was sold for €32 million to the Qataris?” Charalambides asked, while also accusing prosecuting authorities on the island of failing to do their job properly.

Charalambides, who is also vice president of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and a special representative on fighting corruption, defended her call on Fourlas to talk to Belgian authorities after getting many responses on Facebook and Twitter.

“I believe that you should immediately write a detailed report. Transparency and absolution requires the contribution and cooperation from us all,” Charalambides added.

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