Macron defends World Cup trip
French President Emmanuel Macron has defended his decision to personally attend the World Cup semifinal in Qatar despite an ongoing investigation linking the Gulf state to corruption within the European Parliament.
“I’m totally comfortable with it,” Macron told reporters on Thursday when asked about the trip. “Four years ago, I backed the French team in Russia, and I’m backing them in Qatar,” he said, adding that he intends to travel to Qatar again on Sunday to watch France play Argentina in the World Cup final.
His comments came after opposition leaders in France suggested the president should cancel his trip in light of an ongoing graft probe, which had already resulted in the arrest and firing of European Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili.
Although no French MEPs have been identified as suspects in the corruption scandal, Politico reported that opposition leaders in Paris had pointed to France’s close ties with Qatar in areas such as security, energy and culture. Doha has also heavily invested in France and even owns one of the country’s football clubs, Paris Saint-Germain.
Opposition lawmakers confronted Macron’s government about rules on lobbying on Tuesday, suggesting they could leave France open to corruption at the hands of foreign nations.
The European Parliament probe was launched after suspicions arose that Qatar had been paying European officials large amounts of money to promote Doha’s interests in the EU. That was after Greek MEP Eva Kaili hailed Qatar as a “frontrunner” on labor rights despite Doha facing allegations of mistreating workers who built stadiums for the FIFA World Cup tournament.
The investigation has so far singled out several MEPs, including Kaili, and reportedly found at least €1.5 million ($1.61 million) in cash contained in a suitcase, a briefcase and even a paper bag, according to newspaper LeSoir.
Kaili was arrested last week as part of a Belgian police operation looking into alleged bribery. Both the Qatari government and Kaili have denied any wrongdoing.