An alleged leader of a criminal network involved in an EU corruption scandal has agreed to reveal which countries were involved and how it operated.The lawyer for former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri claimed that after striking a settlement with the prosecution his client had agreed to “tell all.”
Mr. Panzeri, an Italian politician who was a Member of the European Parliament between 2004-2019, is one of four individuals detained in Belgium.
They are suspected of collecting bribes from Morocco and Qatar in exchange for their influence on the Brussels Parliament.
Qatar has vehemently refuted claims that it attempted to influence others through gifts and money, while Morocco has likewise vigorously refuted claims that it intended to influence others on matters like fishing rights and the Western Sahara status conflict.
Following a series of raids on a flat, a house, and a hotel, police discovered approximately €1.5 million (£1.3 million) in cash and charged the four suspects last month. Police have released images of stashes of notes with denominations of 200 euros, 50 euros, 20 euros, and 10 euros, as well as a suitcase filled with cash that was discovered in the hotel.
According to the prosecution, Mr. Panzeri accepted the plea offer under a Belgian informant provision that had never been invoked before.
He confessed “criminal culpability,” according to his lawyer Marc Uyttendaele, who said: “It is crucial to note that this is a man who is ruined and he doesn’t have much of a life anymore.”
However, Mr. Uyttendaele continued, his client believed that by promising to “explain what he knows about the matter,” he might “protect his status.”
The other suspects include lobbyist Niccol Figà-Talamanca, a serving Greek MEP named Eva Kaili (who has lost her position as vice-president of the European Parliament) and her partner Francesco Giorgi.
After retiring from politics, Mr. Panzeri, 67, took the helm of the lobbying organisation Fight Impunity. For a different NGO, Mr. Figà-Talamanca worked in the same Brussels location.
The former MEP accepted the plea deal under a rule modelled after an Italian provision that allows repentant mafia members, or “pentiti,” to become state witnesses, according to a statement from Belgium’s federal prosecutor.
He would receive a year in prison rather than a “far longer prison sentence,” a fine, and the forfeiture of €1 million in assets, according to a spokeswoman.
He would have to divulge information about the network’s workings, the financial agreements with the relevant nations, and “the involvement of known and unknown persons within the inquiry, including the names of the persons he admits to having bribed,” in exchange.
The plea agreement was made public the day after an Italian court decided to extradite Silvia Panzeri, 38, the daughter of the former MEP, on charges that she was connected to the affair.
Maria Colleoni, the wife of Mr. Panzeri, could also be extradited, according to a decision made by the same court in the northern city of Brescia last month. However, Italy’s highest appeal court will make the final decision in their case. Despite being placed under house arrest, the two ladies refute the accusations of corruption and money laundering.
Along with the others, Greek MEP Eva Kaili, who also denies involvement in the matter, is suspected of accepting bribes from Qatar in exchange for influencing EU policy.
According to reports, her partner Francesco Giorgi admitted last month to his part in the affair.
However, a mention of “unknown” individuals in the probe raises the possibility that there will be additional information revealed.
Two other center-left MEPs, Italian Andrea Cozzolino and Belgian Marc Tarabella, have previously had their immunity sought after by prosecutors.
Although both MEPs’ attorneys have denied any involvement in the issue, the request is still being looked into by the legal affairs committee of Parliament.