Former EU Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili and three other suspects are accused of money laundering, corruption and membership of a criminal organization. Internal investigative files now reveal how high-level officials in Qatar and Morocco are involved in the scandal.
It is considered the biggest scandal in the history of the European Parliament: the former EU Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili and three other suspects are accused of money laundering and corruption. The Gulf state of Qatar and Morocco are said to have tried to influence decisions in the European Parliament.
Now, more than 1,300 pages of internal investigation files available to Der Spiegel show how very high-ranking officials in Qatar and Morocco are involved in the scandal. How did the biggest EU corruption scandal come about?
The arrest of Eva Kaili in December was the culmination of Operation Mezzo, which has been going on for months and in which five secret services in European countries are said to have been involved. Kaili is accused of being a member of a criminal organization and of having engaged in money laundering and corruption. Shortly before her arrest, Kaili instructed her father to make a suitcase containing money disappear.
Also arrested were four other people – including her Italian partner Francesco Giorgi – who was working as a parliamentary assistant to another MP – and former Socialist MP Pier Antonio Panzeri. For years, the group is said to have received bribes from Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania, according to Der Spiegel.
According to Spiegel information, the first tip came from a foreign secret service. Belgium was informed that a criminal organization wanted to enforce Moroccan interests with the help of MEPs.
In April 2022, Antonio Panzeri’s Brussels apartment was searched: bundles of money worth 700,050 euros were discovered in the apartment, reports Der Spiegel. But the search remained secret for the time being – even Panzeri remained unclear.
The secret service was able to shadow Panzeri for months and find out more and more information about his network. The involvement of Morocco also came to light. The head of the Moroccan foreign secret service DGED is said to be involved in influencing the European Parliament.
According to Spiegel information, boss Yassine Mansouri is said to have met with MEP Andrea Cozzolino and possibly also with Panzeri. The Moroccan ambassador to Poland, Abderrahim Atmoun, is said to have repeatedly brought money with him when traveling via Brussels.
The aim of Morocco’s influence is political support for the EU in the ongoing conflict over Western Sahara. Because Morocco occupies large parts of Western Sahara and denies independence to the people.
Qatar remains at the center of the scandal to this day. By exerting political influence in Brussels, Qatar primarily wanted to polish its image, which has been negatively impacted by reports of the precarious treatment of workers at the World Cup venues, reports Der Spiegel.
Panzeri is said to have met with Labor Minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri, who was directly responsible for the conditions on the World Cup construction sites. Panzeri and Qatar reached an agreement in 2019 – a few months after leaving the EU Parliament, according to Der Spiegel. The labor minister, like Atmoun, is said to have been directly responsible for running the Panzeri group and paying them.
But after a few months, the payment process became more and more complicated, which is why the group founded the non-governmental organization “Fight Impunity” to receive money.
Star witness Giorgi is said to have finally admitted during the interrogation that the Panzeri team also worked for Mauritania and possibly also for Saudi Arabia, reports Der Spiegel. Accordingly, Giorgi himself apparently rented an apartment to the Mauritanian ambassador and collected 1,500 euros in rent plus 300 euros in additional costs.
But how exactly did the quid pro quo of the association around Panzeri look like? This becomes clear at a meeting of the subcommittee on human rights in the EU Parliament on November 14, 2022. Der Spiegel reports that Panzeri wrote the speech for this session for Qatar Minister Marri. It was about Qatar’s progress in labor law reforms. Panzeri even dictated to the minister answers to possible questions from MPs.
In addition, according to Spiegel information, Panzeri is said to have instructed MEP Marc Tarabella to speak positively about Qatar in the committee. Tarabella criticized the fact that there was no criticism at the 2018 World Cup and the Winter Olympics in Russia or the Winter Games in Beijing. And that a picture of Qatar is being drawn that is ten years old. “But there have been reforms, you have to appreciate that,” said Tarabella.
The Italian MEP Alessandra Moretti, acting on Panzeri’s instructions, also complained that there were hundreds of fatal accidents at work in Italy. Just 40 minutes after the meeting, the MEP is said to have called Panzeri to get some praise from him, reports Der Spiegel.
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Parliament President Roberta Metsola now wants to take measures to prevent similar criminal activities in the future. Her proposal: members of parliament should not be allowed to do any lobbying work as long as they receive a transitional allowance after leaving. And the Parliament’s website will also provide information about gifts, trips and meetings of active MPs in the future.