Qatargate: Corruption scandal widens

MEPs Maria Arena and Alessandra Moretti are connected to Belgium’s Qatargate investigation | Photos by the European Parliament

Belgium’s probe into alleged corruption and influence-buying by Qatar and Morocco in the European Parliament has widened, an international arrest warrant obtained by POLITICO shows.

MEPs Maria Arena and Alessandra Moretti are connected to the investigation being undertaken by Belgian prosecutors, according to the warrant for Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino, who was arrested last week on charges of corruption, money-laundering and participation in a criminal organization. The warrant was issued on February 10 by Belgian investigative judge Michel Claise.

According to the document, Arena and Moretti were members of a “quadrumvirate,” along with Cozzolino and Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella, who was also arrested last week. The foursome, according to the warrant, did the bidding of former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri (ER: see featured image), an alleged ringleader of the network operating in the European Parliament, who has made a plea deal with Belgian prosecutors.

The influence-buying scandal has rocked the EU capital, after Belgian authorities raided homes and offices in December 2022, amid allegations Qatar and Morocco handed out cash and gifts to secure favorable treatment in the European Parliament. In the months since, the institution, which often grandstands on rule-of-law and anti-corruption issues, has undergone a period of soul-searching as its leaders attempted to distance themselves from those implicated and enact reforms.

The saga has particularly shone a spotlight on the inner workings of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) — the group to which the implicated MEPs belonged. The S&D has excluded Tarabella, Cozzolino and former Parliament vice president Eva Kaili and responded in January with its own anti-corruption and transparency plan.

The warrant seen by POLITICO sheds light on the extent to which the corrupt network allegedly infiltrated the European Parliament.

In one example cited in the warrant, Arena and Moretti were said to have acted on Panzeri’s instructions during a meeting about a possible Parliament resolution on Qatar, in late 2021. Panzeri, who was at that stage no longer an MEP and didn’t attend the meeting himself, gave instructions to his former assistant, seeking to influence the possible resolution.

The plan and the identities of the members of the so-called quadrumvirate were revealed in text messages sent to Panzeri by his former assistant, Giuseppe Meroni, who was still working in the S&D group at the time, according to the warrant. Panzeri struck a plea deal with Belgian prosecutors last month to exchange information for a reduced sentence.

“Qatar resolved,” Meroni said in one text to his former boss Panzeri, according to the warrant. After the meeting, Panzeri received a briefing on what had gone on from Arena as well as Francesco Giorgi — another of his former assistants, who was by then working for Cozzolino. Giorgi is the partner of Kaili, the jailed former European Parliament vice president, and is himself now in prison.




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