Ex-MEP charged in EU corruption scandal admits links to Qatar & Morocco, lawyer says

The lawyer of former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri confirmed on Wednesday the involvement of Qatar and Morocco in the corruption scandal rocking the European Parliament but rejected claims his client was the brain of the operation.

"Mr Panzeri confesses today to having actively participated in acts of corruption in connection with Qatar and in connection with Morocco and therefore to having been corrupted and to having corrupted others," his lawyer, Laurent Kennes, told Euronews.

He however refused to confirm whether more foreign countries are implicated, arguing that the secrecy is to "enable the investigation to move forward."

"Everyone knows that we are talking about a case that concerns Qatar and Morocco. If there are other countries, the investigation must be able to proceed without everything being disclosed to the press. And that is called the secrecy of the investigation," he said.

The Belgian Federal Prosector's Office announced on Tuesday that Panzeri, an Italian socialist who served three terms in the parliament, had signed a so-called "repentance agreement" and pledged to share "substantial, revealing" information about the cash-for-favour scheme in exchange for a lower sentence.

Four people, including Panzeri, have so far been arrested and charged in relation to the investigation probing "large sums of money" paid by a country so far only officially identified as a Persian Gulf state, but widely believed to be Qatar, with the aim to influence the European union's policy-making.

Doha and Morocco, which has in recent weeks emerged as another potential player, both vehemently deny the allegations.

No new names yet

As part of the deal struck with the Belgian authorities, Panzeri also recognised being a "leader of the criminal organisation," Kennes said, adding however that "it doesn't mean that he is the only leader."

"It means that he is at least one of the leaders of an organisation that had as one of its objectives to corrupt people," the lawyer said.

Under the deal, Panzeri committed to informing Belgian authorities of the involvement of other people, including the identity of the person he admits to having bribed. But Kennes declined to give names or say whether sitting MEPs or officials working in other EU institutions are involved, once more citing the secretive nature of the investigation.

Making such names public "would be announcing in advance what he will say in a secret setting" and "would be a violation of the agreement we have with Federal Prosecutor's Office," Kennes said.

"It's not in my client's interest to communicate his information, which we communicate in his interest and in relation to the voice he wants to carry today. But we are not communicating on elements that he will communicate to the courts, for the sake of justice," he added.

The other three individuals currently detained are Greek MEP Eva Kaili, her partner Francesco Giorgi and NGO director Niccolò Figà-Talamanca. Belgian authorities have also requested the lifting of immunity of two additional socialist MEPs: Marc Tarabella (Belgium) and Andrea Cozzolino (Italy).

'Benevolence' for Panzeri's wife and daughter

In exchange for his cooperation, Panzeri is to be slapped with a five-year suspended prison sentence, with no more than a year spent in detention in jail or under electronic surveillance. He will also receive a suspended fine of €80,000, with a further €1 million to be confiscated.

Kennes defended the deal to Euronews, saying that "the interest for justice is to have someone who no longer has an interest in defending himself or herself and who has no interest either in falsely accusing someone or in saying that someone has absolutely nothing to do with it, except perhaps those close to him."

Panzeri meanwhile, already knows his sentence whereas "it was quite possible that he would be sentenced in five, six or three years' time" and received a similar sentence then.

But he also hopes that there will be "a certain benevolence on the part of the public prosecutor" when it comes to his wife, Maria Dolores Colleoni, and daughter, Silvia Panzeri, which are suspected of having been aware of the illicit actions.

Belgian authorities have requested their extradition from Italy which the two women have appealed.

"Both have lawyers in Italy and they hope that they will not be handed over to the Belgian authorities but they will most probably be interrogated in Belgium, which is quite normal.

"They have already given their approval, that I know, to be questioned in the hope that they will not be questioned in a detained setting," Kennes said.