Qatargate scandal erupts as former MEP takes corruption plea deal

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Pier Antonio Panzeri, who was charged last month with committing various criminal acts such as corruption, money laundering and being a part of a criminal organisation. The former MEP is reported to have signed a memorandum under a rarely utilised legal provision in which he expresses remorse for his actions, according to an official statement from the federal prosecutor’s office in Belgium.

According to a Belgian arrest warrant issued for his wife and daughter, who are living in Italy, Panzeri “is suspected of intervening politically with members working at the European Parliament for the benefit of Qatar and Morocco” in exchange for payment.

Both countries have denied the allegations.

Panzeri, a former Socialist and Democrats lawmaker at the European Parliament, set up a campaign group dubbed Fight Impunity believed to have been a front for the scheme.

In the memorandum, he pledges to tell investigators how the scheme worked, what financial arrangements were made with other countries, how the money was moved, who was behind the plan and what they stood to gain, and the names of others potentially involved.

The move means “a limited sentence is provided for Panzeri,” the statement said.

The Qatargate scandal refers to allegations of corruption, money laundering, and organised crime involving the Qatae government and individuals associated with the NGO Fight Impunity in the European Parliament.

It is alleged politicians, political staffers, lobbyists, civil servants, and their families have accepted bribes from Qatar in order to influence policies in its favor and block criticism of it.

The scandal broke in December 2022 when Belgian police conducted a series of raids and arrested several individuals, including prominent politicians such as Eva Kaili, a vice president of the European Parliament, and Mr Panzeri, who ran the NGO Fight Impunity.

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The scandal has been described as one of the biggest in the history of the European Union, with millions of euros involved.

Qatargate comes at an awkward time before a European Parliament election next year.

The Socialists and Democrats lost almost one-fifth of its seats in the 2019 polls. Beyond criminal accusations, the affair has raised troubling questions about how senior members could have voted against party policy without reprimand.

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In November, three men linked to the scandal took part in a meeting of the Human Rights Subcommittee to assess the conditions of foreign workers in Qatar six days before the World Cup kicked off. The Gulf state’s labour minister was among the speakers.

The conservative European Peoples Party (EPP), the biggest group in parliament, demanded a freeze on the body’s work until the inquiry was over but relented after Belgian lawmaker Maria Arena stepped down. The EPP said members could now work “in a more serene atmosphere.”

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