Imprisoned since mid-December for his part in the fast-evolving Qatargate scandal, former Italian socialist MEP Antonio Panzeri is reported to have signed a plea deal Tuesday, January 17th, with Belgian authorities, according to reports by Politico.
The alleged mastermind behind the scandal, Panzeri—himself a three-term veteran of the Parliament under the umbrella of the S&D group—admitted being a go-between for Qatari and EU officials. Accepting payments made through an NGO run by Panzeri, the motivation for the bribery was to garner influence for Qatar and to whitewash the state’s poor human rights record.
Arrested in Italy, in the company of his wife and daughter, on charges of bribery and corruption, the arrest occurred concurrently with that of the vice president of the parliament, MEP Eva Kaili. €600,000 in cash was found at his residence.
A former chair of the parliament’s human rights subcommittee, Panzeri is alleged to have used his role to gain influence for the Gulf state, even funnelling cash to other officials personally. In addition to his subcommittee role, Panzeri was president of the human rights NGO ‘Fight Impunity,’ which specialises in compiling reports on human rights violations as far afield as China and Yemen and, which authorities allege, was just a front for the former MEP to launder money.
Signing a plea deal with the Belgian Public Prosecutor’s Office, it is expected that Panzeri will receive a reduced sentence for naming more officials and countries implicated in the influence operation. Increasingly embroiling Morocco alongside Qatar, some believe that Panzeri’s cooperation could expand the number of countries accused of buying influence in Brussels.
Previous to this, Panzeiri was named as having close liaisons with the Moroccan ambassador to Poland, Abderrahim Atmoun, who prosecutors believe provided the former MEP illegal payments.
Among the many claims facing him, Panzeri is reported to have provided Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella €120,000 in bribe money—allegations denied by the Belgian.
The previous day, Monday, January 16th, president of the EU Parliament Roberta Metsola began proceedings which would see Tarabella and another Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino, stripped of their immunity for their alleged role in the scandal. MEPs are normally exempt from standard inquiries due to fear of arbitrary prosecution, a privilege which can be revoked should a MEP be to be ‘found in the act’ of committing a crime, as is being alleged.
Attention now turns to Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino, who also sits on the Parliament’s human rights committee and is known to be a crucial member in EU-Maghrebi affairs. Cozzolino was suspended from the Democratic Party when accusations against him first emerged in December.
Speaking Monday, Metsola also hinted that the implication of Morocco would alter the nature of the scandal, considering the North African country’s current involvement in the bugging of international leaders’ phones with the ‘Pegasus’ spyware.