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FirstFT: Qatar corruption scandal shakes European parliament

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Good morning. The European parliament is at the centre of a spreading corruption scandal after Belgian police seized €600,000 in cash and detained two MEPs as part of an international investigation into claims that football World Cup host Qatar sought to buy influence.

A Belgian judge charged four unnamed people yesterday with “participation in a criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption” following multiple arrests and house searches over the weekend, including the homes of two MEPs and a former MEP’s family in Italy.

Belgian prosecutors suspect “that third parties in political and/or strategic positions within the European parliament were paid large sums of money or offered substantial gifts to influence parliament’s decision”.

The charges have already triggered resignations and the suspension of a parliamentary vote on granting Qatari nationals visa-free travel to the bloc, due next week.

Parliamentarians have voiced shock at the arrests of the four people — and of the related detention of family members of a former Italian MEP, who were allegedly offered a holiday worth €100,000 by the Qataris. Campaigners have lambasted the parliament’s “culture of impunity”.

The allegations come as Qatar is the centre of world attention, with the World Cup semi-finals and final to be played over the next week. The matches are the culmination of a tournament that the Gulf state had long sought but that has brought unprecedented scrutiny of its stance on gay rights, treatment of migrant workers and the use of its wealth to bolster its role in the world.

1. Beijing eases Covid restrictions on transport to revive economy After nearly three years, China has lifted tough pandemic restrictions on transport workers such as long-haul truckers and air crew, in an effort to alleviate the congestion in the transportation industry and encourage economic recovery.

2. Fusion energy breakthrough boosts hopes for clean power Government scientists in California have made a breakthrough in the pursuit of limitless, zero-carbon power by achieving a net energy gain in a fusion reaction for the first time. The breakthrough comes as the world wrestles with high energy prices and the need to rapidly move away from burning fossil fuels to stop average global temperatures reaching dangerous levels.

3. Investors withdraw record levels of coins from crypto exchanges The rapid descent of crypto exchange FTX, once the darling of the crypto industry, has alarmed investors who keep and trade their assets on other centralised crypto exchanges such as Binance, Kraken and Coinbase — leading to record levels of withdrawals of bitcoin, the most widely-traded crypto token. The rush for the exit comes as the price of bitcoin has plunged 64 per cent this year.

4. US takes custody of man charged with making Lockerbie bomb Former Libyan intelligence officer Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi was taken into custody yesterday by the US for allegedly building the bomb that downed a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, 34 years ago, killing 270 people.

5. Japanese tech leaders warn Beijing will ride out US chip sanctions Executives at Sony and NEC have warned that the latest US chip export controls are unlikely to suppress China’s progress in artificial intelligence and super computers, calling into question the long-term effectiveness of the sanctions. The comments come as the US tries to convince the Netherlands and Japan to impose further chipmaking restrictions on China.

The day ahead

International conference on Ukraine An international conference, organised by French president Emmanuel Macron and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, will take place in Paris today to support Ukrainian civil resilience.

Kenyan Independence Day Kenya celebrates its independence today with a public holiday.

RMT members vote A ballot among RMT members for the latest pay offer to rail workers closes on Monday with the rail union recommending that members reject the proposed deal.

Golden Globe nominations Nominees are announced today for the Golden Globe Awards, ahead of the ceremony on January 10.

Economic indicators India releases November consumer price index inflation figures, and the UK, its October GDP estimate, industrial production and trade balance data.

Corporate results Oracle’s Q2 results publish today.

What else we’re reading

Migration fatigue: Europe braces for new influx of Ukrainians Just as some refugees were beginning to return to their cities, Russia’s sustained bombardment of Ukrainian power and water facilities have forced residents to leave once again. As winter closes in, EU member states are braced for an influx of migrants.

The problem of everything being too convenient Our convenience culture — in which Alexa can change the channel and Ocado can deliver our groceries — has rewired our brains to perceive even small nuisances as full-on disasters, writes Robert Shrimsley.

The art of protest in Xi’s China Anger at Xi’s zero-Covid policy has finally boiled over into unusually public displays of dissent. But because of China’s low tolerance for explicitly adversarial protest, the country’s people have developed a practice of yin yang guai qi, “the weirdness of yin and yang”, an expression that refers to a deliberate and often sarcastic strain of ambiguity.

Chelsea Manning: ‘I can dish it out as much as I can take it’ Sitting down for Lunch With the FT, Chelsea Manning — former US army analyst and whistleblower — chats about estrangement from friends and family, why the internet brings out the worst in people, the ethics of secrecy and her new memoir README.txt.

Has inflation peaked? Central banks in the developed world have increased interest rates to curb demand and crush inflation with alacrity this year but, says the FT’s editorial board, now is not the moment to be holding or cutting borrowing costs.

Travel

From Antwerp to Zanzibar, travel writers share their favourite discoveries of the year — and their disappointments.

The Park Hyatt, on the beach in Stone Town, Zanzibar

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