The lawyer of a former MEP from Italy says that his client is willing to “tell all” and admit “criminal responsibility” amid an ongoing Belgian police probe into alleged corruption between EU officials and the state of Qatar.
Pier Antonio Panzeri – a former Leftwing politician previously associated with the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European parliament – is one of four individuals being investigated in connection to the case.
The others are sitting socialist MEP Eva Kaili from Greece, her partner Francesco Giorgi, and Italian NGO worker Niccolò Figà-Talamanca.
According to a statement from Belgium’s federal prosecutor, Panzeri has accepted a plea bargain which will require him to inform authorities of the details of how the alleged money laundering operation conducted its business, as well as “the involvement of known and unknown persons within the investigation, including the identity of the persons he admits to having bribed.”
In return it is understood that the former-MEP will face a year in jail, as opposed to the “much heavier prison sentence” he may have faced otherwise. He will also have €1m in assets confiscated, in addition to a fine.
Speaking to BBC news on Wednesday, Panzeri’s lawyer, Marc Uyttendaele, said that his client accepted “criminal responsibility” in the case, and added that “It is important to know that this is a man who is destroyed and he doesn’t have much of a life left.”
Last December European Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili from Greece was one of four individuals arrested by Belgian authorities as part of an investigation into suspected bribery, as well as “participation in a criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption.”
Belgian authorities allege that the Qatari state gifted money to high-ranking officials within the European Parliament, in exchange for influence within the bloc.
Both Kaili and the Qatari government have denied any wrongdoing.
“[Eva Kaili] declares her innocence and that she has nothing to do with bribery from Qatar,” her lawyer, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, said on Greek television last month.
So far in the investigation, Belgian authorities report that large sums of cash have been found at several key locations, believed to be related to the case.
These include €600,000 worth of cash at the home of one suspect, and an additional €150,000 at an unnamed MEP’s apartment. A further €750,000 was found in a suitcase in a hotel room in Brussels.
It was alleged that the €150,000 was found at Kaili’s apartment, though her lawyer said at the time he was unaware of the truth of the claims.
“I have no idea if any money was found or how much was found,” he said.
Following the arrests which rocked Belgium in December, a previously proposed European Parliament vote to allow visa-free travel to the European Union from Qatar was postponed, and Qatari diplomats were banned from visiting the parliament.
This prompted Qatar to dub the move “discriminatory,” and said that it could threaten vital energy deals between the two jurisdictions.
This could prove significant, with the EU becoming increasingly reliant on countries like Qatar for energy as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to exacerbate Europe’s energy woes.
Last year Germany, the EU’s biggest economy, signed a 15-year contract with Qatar to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the Gulf State, and Qatar alone provided a quarter of the EU’s LNG imports in 2021.
Investigations into the allegations are ongoing.