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EU corruption scandal suspect cuts deal with prosecutors

January 18, 2023

Former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri agreed to cooperate with Belgian prosecutors, in exchange for a more lenient sentence. He reportedly received money from Morocco to promote its interests in the EU parliament.

Pier Antonio Panzeri of the European Parliament
Panzeri was taken into custody on December 9Image: Amine Landoulsi/AA/picture alliance

Former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri has agreed to cooperate with investigators looking into the European Parliament's cash-for-influence scandal, in exchange for leniency, the Belgian prosecution said on Tuesday.

Panzeri is one of four detained suspects in the case which has rocked the legislature. The four suspects are accused of receiving bribes to sway the European Parliament in favor of Qatar and Morocco. Both countries have denied involvement.

The suspects' arrest followed raids in Belgium and Italy last month that turned up €1.5 million ($1.6 million) in cash.

Other defendants in the case include Greek MEP and former Vice President Eva Kaili, parliamentary aide Francesco Giorgi, and Italian NGO head Niccolo Figa-Talamanca.

The four suspects are held on charges of "criminal organization, corruption and money laundering."

What does the deal entail?

As per the signed deal, Panzeri commits to make statements to the prosecution about the parties involved and the crimes committed in the case.

He is particularly expected to give information about the financial arrangements with other involved countries and the involvement of known and unknown people within the investigation, including individuals he admits to having bribed.

The statement could increase the list of suspects in the case, which has already shaken up trust in European institutions.

In exchange for the deal, Panzeri's sentence would be reduced to five years in prison, including four years of a suspended jail term, a fine and the confiscation of all assets acquired, estimated at €1 million, a prosecutor's spokesman told the Reuters news agency.

The Italian suspect's lawyer told the French AFP news agency that the one year sentence could even be partially served as house arrest with an electronic bracelet.

What is the EU corruption scandal?

Panzeri was arrested on December 9 and has since been in custody. Police discovered some €600,000 in cash in his apartment in Belgium.

The 67-year-old headed a NGO suspected of receiving money from certain countries to bribe MEPs in order to sway parliamentary decisions on issues of importance to the countries concerned.

He reportedly received money from Morocco to promote its interests in the parliament.

Panzeri's wife and daughter were arrested in Italy, under a Belgian warrant which authorized their extraditions. The wife reportedly challenged the court order.

A portrait photo of jailed MEP Eva Kaili
Kaili was stripped of her title as parliament vice president after her arrestImage: Giannis Panagopoulos/Eurokinissi/ANE Edition/IMAGO

Kaili, who has been removed from her position as one of the European Parliament's 14 vice presidents, is suspected of having received bribes from Qatar to sway policy.

The scandal is one of the largest in EU history. It has done incalculable damage to the bloc's reputation and invoked calls for reform in the European Parliament.

rmt/wd (AFP, Reuters)