EU transport chief set to leave his post over free Qatar flights, officials say
Henrik Hololei is under investigation after POLITICO revealed he accepted free tickets while his officials struck an open skies deal with Doha.
BRUSSELS — A top European Union official is set to leave his role in charge of transport policy, following POLITICO’s revelations that he accepted free flights on Qatar Airways while his team negotiated a major aviation deal with the Gulf state, according to three officials.
Henrik Hololei, director general of the European Commission’s transport department, faces an internal investigation into the flights, and whether he was right to clear himself of any conflict of interest.
According to two Commission insiders and another person familiar with the matter, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter, Hololei will leave his job as director general of the transport department and will become a political adviser in the Commission’s department in charge of international partnerships.
A spokesperson for the Commission declined to comment, citing policy not to discuss human resources issues.
POLITICO revealed a month ago that Hololei flew business class for free on Qatar Airways nine times between 2015 and 2021, according to details obtained through freedom of information requests. Six of the free flights occurred while the market access agreement between the EU and Doha was being put together, and four of these were paid for by the government of Qatar or a group with links to Qatar.
The disclosures immediate triggered a storm of criticism, calls for an inquiry and demands to overhaul the rules. The Commission initially insisted Hololei had not broken any rules, but then later moved to tighten those same rules to make sure his behavior could not be repeated in future. An internal investigation is under way into the flights, after officials confirmed that Hololei himself had been the person who signed off on the ethical question of whether they represented a conflict of interest.
In recent days, POLITICO has reported calls from within the Commission for Hololei to step aside.
The episode comes at a highly sensitive time for the EU. The Brussels institutions are already battling to save their reputation amid a corruption scandal involving allegations that Qatar and other foreign governments paid MEPs and others to do their bidding in the European Parliament.