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EU corruption scandal intensifies as primary defendant opens up in interview

Qatar has denied all allegations concerning the EU scandal and expressed the need to respect the judicial procedures.

Former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, the primary defendant in the “Qatarargate” scandal and a repentant candidate in the eyes of Belgian law since 17 January, has taken a seat for an interview.

He spoke to investigators about the background of this case of alleged corruption in the European Parliament, according to sources privy to the matter, as well as about the connections he formed.

According to two defence attorneys, a lengthy unpacking of a 2014 case is currently under process.

The names of nations that Panzeri has actively canvassed for are listed in the file that the courts currently hold. These nations are charged with lavishly bribing many middlemen to further their strategic objectives within the European Parliament. Panzeri was in charge when he founded the 2019 umbrella NGO Fight Impunity, but is likely not the only middleman, reports state.

Panzeri is reported to have entered into a covert agreement with the Moroccan foreign intelligence service, the DGED (Direction Générale des Études et de la Documentation), through the intermediary of a friend who is the country’s current ambassador to Poland, according to reports.

Mauritania being also cited, is believed to have given Francesco Giorgi, Panzeri’s former parliamentary assistant, 25,000 euros in cash in addition to paying 1,200 euros in rent for his apartment in Brussels.

A bag or envelope bearing the logo of the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates was found inside one of the bags seized by Belgian police from Panzeri’s residence.

An Arab coworker who carefully examined and magnified the inquiry images published by the Le Soir in early January informed La Libre of such revelation.

There are numerous organisations in Brussels that represent the views and interests of Middle Eastern nations while posing as non-profits.

The Middle East Dialogue Center is one of them and was established in 2018 by two lawyers on the grounds of the Qatari Embassy in Brussels, 1 rue Blanche. Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD), a Norwegian NGO funded by a UAE corporation, was also in operation not far away on Avenue Louise.

Judge Michel Claise has so far accused four people of participating in a criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption. Nearly 1.5 million euros in cash have been confiscated as a result of 20 searches, and the inquiry remains ongoing.

EU corruption scandal

Last month, member nations of the European Union expressed concern over claims that Qatar had ‘bought off’ some members of the European Parliament to influence their votes.

Belgian authorities charged four people, including Greek lawmaker Eva Kaili and Panzeri, over the allegations and an investigation was launched.

The ongoing probe alleges that the officials took money, trips, and gifts, as part of efforts to lobby for Qatar at the European Parliament, alluding to Doha’s alleged role in influencing the parliament’s policy-making, France’s Le Monde reported.

Meanwhile, the National Federation of Aviation and its Trades [FNAM] this week issued a statement calling on European institutions to investigate the circumstances surrounding the signing of the 2021 EU-Qatar Open Skies Agreement, given recent reports of alleged corruption involving Qatar.

That came just weeks after members of the European Parliament voted to suspend Qatari representatives’ access to its premises.

In a statement at the time, Qatar’s foreign ministry underlined “the need to respect the judicial procedures and not to anticipate the results of the investigations.”

As part of the most recent official address from Qatar, the Gulf country’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said Doha is “100%” sure that allegations of paying off European officials are baseless, calling on Europe to avoid dragging Qatar’s name into the ongoing corruption scandal.

He 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.

This was the first time the country’s foreign minister commented on the matter directly. However, last month, the official stressed Doha’s “rejection” of misleading media leaks in a meeting with the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.

The comments to CNBC came just days after two Belgian members of the European Parliament admitted they had failed to disclose paid trips to Qatar this week, though authorities in Doha said such visits are frequently organised and publicly announced.

“Like many governments, we frequently organise visits to Qatar for foreign officials and members of parliamentary groups,” a Qatari official said in a statement to Doha News.

“These trips are announced publicly and provide an opportunity for visitors to discuss important topics with government officials, academics, representatives from NGOs and international organisations such as the ILO, and members of the public, so that they can form their own opinions and develop a better-informed view of Qatar.”

“There is no expectation that their opinions will be positive – our aim is only to have a constructive dialogue and show them the reality on the ground,” the official told Doha News, adding that Qatar “categorically” rejects any attempt to associate the Gulf country with misconduct.

Source : Doha News