EU transport chief given new role after taking free Qatar flights

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The European Union’s transport chief, who accepted free flights and accommodation in Qatar as his staff engaged in aviation negotiations with the Gulf state, has been transferred to another job at his own request, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

Henrik Hololei, director general of the European Commission’s transport department, has been moved to a new non-management role at the commission, ending allegations of wrongdoing. He took nine free Qatar Airways flights between 2015 and 2021, POLITICO reported in early March. Although that did not violate the Commission’s rules, Hololei is subject to an internal investigation, and critics have accused him of a conflict of interest.

The Commission confirmed on Wednesday that the Estonian official would be removed from his role on 1 April. A POLITICO report earlier that day suggested he would leave the transport department, known as DG MOVE, to become a political adviser with no management responsibility in DG INTPA, which oversees international partnerships.

A spokesperson for the European Commission told Al-Monitor, “We also mentioned before that there is an ongoing internal assessment process related to the Directorate General Hololei. In this regard, please note that the College’s decision was taken without prejudice in any way to his presumption of innocence.” The spokesman declined to say when the investigation might be concluded.

In an email to the team, Hololei wrote, to end the distraction, “I have asked to be transferred to another position, which I will take up as DG INTPA.”

The controversy follows the so-called “Qatargate” revelations that surfaced in the European Parliament at the end of last year, when the Gulf country hosted the FIFA World Cup. The scandal, which alleges European officials took bribes from Qatar in exchange for favorable policies, erupted last December when Belgian police raided Brussels addresses, detained a lawmaker, confiscated computers and mobile phones, and revealed more than 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in cash. Four people – including Eva Kaili, one of the 14 vice-presidents of the European Parliament – ​​have been charged. The lawsuit is ongoing. Qatar has denied involvement in the scandal.

The European Parliament has pledged to make a number of reforms to prevent foreign interference, including tightening lobbying rules for former MEPs.

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