The Qatargate scandal has rocked the European Parliament after an investigation into alleged illicit lobbying activities by Qatar. Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former MEP and the former chairman of the European Parliament’s Human Rights Subcommittee, was reportedly detained by police in a mushrooming corruption scandal involving Qatar. According to Belgian police, Panzeri was the driving force behind a Qatar-funded criminal organization suspected of having tried to infiltrate the EU legislative body.
Since the scandal erupted in mid-December, both Eva Kaili and Francesco Giorgi have pointed the finger at Panzeri as the manager behind the money exchanges. Over €600,000 in cash was reportedly found at Panzeri’s home, and his non-profit organization called Fight Impunity, which did not appear on the EU’s Transparency Register, shared the same address as No Peace Without Justice, the NGO led by Niccolò Figà-Talamanca.
Panzeri’s NGO, Fight Impunity, was founded in September 2019, just months after the European elections. The organization’s stated purpose is to “promote the fight against impunity for serious violations of human rights and crimes against humanity.” However, according to Belgian press reports, the NGO was raided, and suspicions arose that Qatar used money and gifts to influence economic and political decisions in the European Parliament.
It is alleged that Panzeri intervened politically with members working at the European Parliament for the benefit of Qatar and Morocco. The Belgian arrest warrant accused his wife and daughter of participating in a criminal organization and of money laundering, with a possible sentence of five years.
Panzeri struck a plea deal with the Belgian prosecutor to exchange information for a reduced sentence. He will hand over information on financial arrangements, the countries involved, who benefited, and who was involved. One of Panzeri’s lawyers, Laurent Kennes, said that Panzeri “acknowledges having participated in acts of corruption” and “participating in a criminal organization.”
Belgian press reported that Panzeri admitted to having given €120,000 to Marc Tarabella, a Belgian socialist MEP. Panzeri also agreed to disclose the names of those he admits to having bribed, according to the prosecutor. Regarding another Belgian MEP, Maria Arena, who failed to declare a paid-for Qatar trip taken in May 2022, Kennes conveyed how Panzeri “wanted to say that he was particularly sorry.”
Panzeri’s involvement in the Qatargate scandal has raised questions about the transparency and accountability of the European Parliament. The scandal has also brought to light the influence that foreign entities can wield over the EU legislative body, and the need for increased regulation and scrutiny of lobbying activities.