A senior EU Commission official has been exposed as taking government-sponsored trips to Qatar while he was involved in negotiations with the Gulf state over a major aviation deal, Politico reports.
The revelation comes after months of arrests of senior EU officials involved in the Qatargate scandal, with Qatar and other non-EU nations accused of bribing EU officials in return for influence.
Estonian Director General for Transport Henrik Hololei is accused of taking nine junkets to Qatar, six of which occurred while he and his staff were negotiating a market access agreement with the Qatari government between 2015 and 2021.
Four of the trips were directly paid for by the Qatari government and discovered under freedom of information requests, with an EU Commission spokesperson denying that the junkets broke ethical standards.
Hololei has previously promoted Qatar at public events and has met with senior Qatari Transport officials. The flights were taken with Qatar Airways and their sister airline Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO).
Hololei, a transport official with the EU Commission, accepted the trips while he and his staff were formalising an open skies partnership with the Qatari government. The controversial €450 million aviation deal granted state airline Qatar Airways landing rights in most EU airports, with EU airlines given reciprocal rights to Doha airport.
Earlier this month, the EU Parliament announced that it was launching a probe into illegal influencing of the 2021 agreement. Opponents of the agreement at the time said that the deal gave Qatar an unfair advantage due to the access granted to the EU market.
Speaking to Politico, a campaigner for the Corporate Europe Observatory, which monitors lobbying within Brussels, said that the links were evidence that “Qatargate is not confined to the European Parliament.”
In recent weeks, there has been a scramble for EU officials to declare free trips to Qatar, with a Transparency International report declaring that socialist MEPs were most likely to not properly declare junkets.
The Qatargate scandal emerged in December 2022 and has so far led to the arrest of 7 EU officials on corruption charges, including vice president of the parliament Eva Kaili with calls to reform the EU’s ethical code of conduct.