Belgium drops pursuit of Qatari minister in Qatargate scandal swap deal 

Belgian media indicate that the release of Belgian relief worker Olivier Vandecasteele from his prison in Tehran occurred shortly after the suspension of the arrest warrant against a Qatari official 

Belgium has dropped an arrest warrant against a Qatari minister in connection with the corruption case that rocked the European Parliament, known as the “Qatargate”. This decision was made in exchange for Qatar’s assistance in facilitating the release of a Belgian imprisoned in Iran, according to a Belgian source familiar with the matter.

Belgian media reported that the arrest warrant issued against Qatari Minister of Labor Ali bin Samikh Al Marri was suspended last May, as Brussels sought the release of Belgian relief worker Olivier Vandecasteele from his prison in Tehran.

Investigators accused Al Marri of involvement in a bribery scandal called “Qatargate,” which revolves around an alleged scheme by the Gulf state to channel cash to European Parliament members.

Tehran released Vandecasteele and other European citizens in June in exchange for Brussels releasing an Iranian diplomat convicted of terrorism. Oman reportedly mediated in this exchange deal.

An official source in Belgium stated that dropping the arrest warrant was an attempt to encourage Qatar to mediate in the hostage case.

The source added, “It was a move by Belgium towards Qatar without having any significant practical impact, as the minister enjoys diplomatic immunity allowing him to travel and conduct official visits.”

Qatar maintains close relations with Tehran and has previously assisted in negotiating a prisoner exchange deal between the United States and Iran in September.

The “Qatargate” scandal cast a shadow over the European Parliament after Belgian police arrested several suspects and seized a cash amount of 1.5 million euros in raids in December last year.

The Belgian investigation focuses on uncovering Qatar’s alleged attempts to buy influence in the European Parliament, especially in the context of efforts to mitigate criticism of the Gulf state’s record on workers’ rights ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Doha vehemently denied any involvement in such violations.

Vandecasteele was convicted of espionage in Iran, a charge his supporters argue was fabricated by Tehran as part of its “hostage diplomacy” strategy.

Iranian diplomat Assadollah Asadi, exchanged with Vandecasteele, had been imprisoned in Belgium since 2018 after being convicted of planning an attack during a rally of Iranian opposition outside Paris.

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