European Parliament corruption case ‘involves too many Italians not to talk about ‘Italian work’
Suspects caught in the act with briefcases full of money: in Italy, Qatargate is already considered the Mani Pulite of the 21st century. In the 1990s, Operation Clean Hands, a major investigation into political corruption in the Milan judiciary, shook Italian politics to its core. Thirty years later, a similar investigation into corruption shocks the European Parliament. To the dismay of many in Italy, the Italians play the leading role in this.
“Corruption has no nationality. But there are just too many Italians involved in this case not to speak of an “Italian job”, writes the center-left daily. The Republic Wednesday, in response to a reader’s question.
Belgian investigators seized a total of one and a half million euros in cash in Brussels from former Italian MEP Antonio Panzeri and Greek MEP Eva Kaili. She is the life partner of the Italian Francesco G., who was previously Panzeri’s parliamentary assistant in Brussels. All three were arrested.
Belgian justice suspects that cash and luxury gifts were used to “grease” members and employees of the European Parliament, so that they defend Qatar’s interests in Europe.
But Morocco also appeared in this search. A report from the Belgian intelligence services seems to have launched the judicial investigation. However, he would not have referred primarily to Qatar, but to Morocco. This country is said to have paid bribes to members and former members of the European Parliament, including Panzeri.
The investigation is set to expand further, according to Italian media, partly on the basis of information that the arrested Francesco G. provided to Belgian investigators. He was interrogated for hours.
So far, six suspects have been arrested in Brussels; four of them were also arrested. And in Italy, Panzeri’s wife and daughter are under house arrest until an Italian judge decides on their extradition to Belgium early next week.
A close-knit network of we-know-us
Italian is not the only nationality of many suspects in this case, notes The Republic on, but also family ties. The investigation reveals the contours of a close-knit network, with friends, girlfriends, a wife and a daughter.
Francesco G., a 35-year-old sailing instructor from Abbiategrasso, near Milan, made the connection between his Greek girlfriend Eva Kaili (44) and Panzeri, for whom he worked as a parliamentary assistant. It also appears from wiretapped telephone conversations that Panzeri’s wife, Maria Dolores C., and their daughter Silvia were also involved in the plot. The two women were arrested in Italy at the request of Belgian justice and then placed under house arrest. In Belgium, the police also raided the home of MEP Marc Tarabella, a French-speaking Belgian socialist of Italian origin. In recent months, he has been very lenient towards Qatar regarding the respect of workers’ rights, especially during the construction of football stadiums.
Just like in Brussels, the police also found a lot of cash in Italy. At home with Francesco G. in Abbiategrasso it was 20,000 euros, at Panzeri 17,000 euros. The family’s attorney called the amount “not even that excessive for a wealthy family.”
Antonio Panzeri has proven himself on the Italian political left. Between 1995 and 2003 he was secretary of the left-wing trade union federation CGIL in Milan, the largest trade union in Italy. Panzeri was a board member of the National Party of Left Democrats, the party that evolved from the former Italian Communist Party. He was elected three times to the European Parliament.
While he split from his old party (then renamed the center-left Democratic Party) a few years ago, Panzeri’s arrest gave him a new blow. And this while the blow of the disappointing result of the elections at the end of September still resounds.
The Democratic Party is now asking for a commission of inquiry in the European Parliament.
Relations with Maghreb countries
Interesting detail, since Morocco is also involved in this affair: in the European Parliament, Panzeri headed the delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries for many years. Between 2017 and 2019, he also chaired its human rights subcommittee.
Italian MEP Ignazio Corrao (independent, Greens group) sat in the same sub-committee. He remembers Panzeri as “very, very closely associated with Morocco” and also that as president he “vigorously defended the North African country”. This often led to discussions with other members of the subcommittee. Corrao: ,, We rarely agreed. More than once, Panzeri has taken a very softening stance on Morocco, or tried to deflect attention from potentially thorny issues. At the same time, it never occurred to Corrao to suspect Panzeri of corruption.
After leaving the European Parliament in 2019, Panzeri founded Fight Impunity in Brussels, an NGO that fights impunity for gross human rights violations. “As such, he regularly visited the European Parliament,” explains Corrao, who recently saw Panzeri there.
At Fight Impunity, arrested Francesco G. also appears. On LinkedIn, G. describes himself as a ‘senior advisor’ to the NGO – on a voluntary basis. Researchers suspect the NGO is being used as a front to funnel bribes and luxury gifts.
The NGO No Peace Without Justice is also registered at the same address in the Hertogstraat in Brussels. This NGO, which has forged a solid reputation in international criminal law, was founded by former MEP and former Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino. She was an honorary board member of Fight Impunity but, like many others, has now distanced herself from the NGO.
Bonino, who is not under suspicion herself, says in a response that she does not know Panzeri personally. But this research also affects the NGO she founded. Niccolò F.-T., the secretary general of No Peace Without Justice, was also arrested on suspicion of corruption, and Emma Bonino has known him for thirty years. “He was a hard worker and very dedicated,” said Bonino, who declined to comment on an ongoing investigation.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of December 15, 2022
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