Pier Antonio Panzeri, one of the key suspects in the EU corruption scandal, recently cut a plea deal with Belgian prosecutors and agreed to share ‘revealing’ information.
A Belgian court has withdrawn a request to extradite the daughter and wife of former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri to Belgium following a plea agreement between the Belgian prosecution and the Italian politician.
Panzeri’s wife Maria Dolores Colleoni and daughter Silvia Panzeri, who are both suspects in the ongoing European Parliament corruption scandal, will remain under house arrest in Italy instead of facing charges in Belgium, Corriere della Sera reported on Tuesday.
They are both suspected of being aware of the former EU lawmaker’s alleged illegal activities, which included the distribution of cash for influence to allegedly benefit Qatar and Morocco, primarily through his nongovernmental organisation, Fight Impunity.
Qatari authorities have denied all allegations.
Colleoni and Silvia Panzeri have been under house arrest in northern Italy since December 10.
An Italian court had granted a request for extradition earlier this month to send them to face charges in Belgium, alongside Panzeri.
However, following Panzeri’s plea deal, the Belgian judge presiding over the investigation is traveling to Milan on Wednesday to meet with Italian investigators instead of sending his family to Belgium, Corriere della Sera reported.
Panzeri, a socialist MEP from 2004 to 2019, signed a plea deal last week agreeing to share “revealing” information that can help shed light on the ongoing investigation in exchange for a sentence of less than a year in prison.
Panzeri is among many suspects in the ongoing EU corruption scandal, which started late December when authorities in Brussels arrested six people and seized at least €600,000 in cash.
Belgian authorities said they were probing corruption and money laundering, per a previous Reuters report.
The investigation alleges that the officials took money, trips, and gifts, in lobbying for Qatar at the European Parliament, alluding to Doha’s alleged role in influencing the parliament’s policy-making, France’s Le Monde reported.
The French paper cited text in which the European Parliament expressed its concern over possible alterations to a number of resolutions “by corruption and undue influence”.
The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office sent a media statement at the beginning of the scandal, saying the police “suspected a Gulf country of influencing economic and political decisions of the European Parliament.”
Citing media leaks, reports were quick to claim Qatar, Morocco, and Bahrain’s alleged involvement in the scandal. Doha has vehemently rejected the claims since the scandal first emerged last month.
Panzeri’s lawyer recently said he will not back down from exposing who he worked with, AFP reported.
“It’s not simply a question of explaining that ‘On such and such a day I received €1000 for the first time’, he’ll have to explain the whole background,” Panzeri’s lawyer Laurent Kennes claimed.
He stated that Panzeri would lay out everything that had occurred since 2014 – “or even before then, in terms of contacts,” a promise that may raise concerns among several suspects who have not yet been charged.
Panzeri is 68 years old, and a complex corruption trial can take years to complete, so the suspect has every reason to cooperate, the lawyer added.
“He was very worried about his wife and daughter and now hopes for some generosity, it’s human and legitimate,” Kennes said.
Qatar rejects ‘harmful’ allegations
Last week, Qatar’s foreign minister said Doha is “100%” sure that allegations of paying off European officials are baseless and called on Europe to avoid dragging Qatar’s name into the ongoing corruption scandal.
The top official, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, told CNBC that the ongoing investigation must be respected before such claims are made.
“As a State of Qatar, we are 100% sure that this premise has no basis. We didn’t see anything. There’s an ongoing investigation. We have to see; we have to wait until the investigation is over,” the official told the news organisation during a sit-in interview.
Sheikh Mohammed highlighted that such Qatar-targeted allegations have only been from the media, and noted the country itself has not yet received any such complaints from Belgium authorities.
“What we are reading and what we are hearing is that there’s an ongoing investigation that everybody should respect and we should look at those outcomes of this investigation.
“This problem is a problem that is happening in Europe for a European institution. It is better for them to look at their own institution and do all the steps required for them and not to drag our country’s name in such a situation,” he stressed.