The Mystery of Maria Arena: Examining the Qatargate Probe

Recently, police broadened their investigation into allegations of corruption in the European Parliament to include a new lawmaker: the Belgian socialist MEP Maria Arena. Over a year into the so-called Qatargate scandal, Belgian detectives interviewed Arena as a suspect for the first time, according to federal prosecutor’s spokesperson Eric Van Duyse. But here the question arises why she was not investigated in the initial stages of examination and Belgian authorities not touch her while the other suspects were investigated very early?

For months, Arena’s name has been linked to other suspects involved in the alleged corruption ring, but her possible involvement has remained a mystery. There are strong speculations that she was protected by Belgian authorities. The Belgian lawmaker has strongly denied any criminal wrongdoing from the start. 

Until now, the police had not questioned her, despite compiling information about her ties to Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former MEP who struck a plea bargain with prosecutors and admitted taking money from Qatar, Morocco, and Mauritania in exchange for political favors in the EU’s Parliament. However, according to leaked information, there was concrete evidence against her, but why she was not treated like other suspects of QatarGate? This raises serious objections to Belgian authorities’ conduct.

There was also a leaked conversation between the suspects. “Don’t put yourself out of the game,” Panzeri told Arena in August 2022 during a meal at the now-defunct Salvarino pizzeria in Brussels, according to police files. “Because if you are in the game, then I am going to amass more money,” he told her. This was strong evidence against her, but she remained untouched.

Moreover, police raided Arena’s properties in Brussels last summer in the presence of European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, finding a large sum of money at the apartment of one of her sons — though that has not been directly linked to the Qatargate probe, as claimed by Belgian authorities. However, in reality, that was the real money that made Arena a true suspect in the case, but Belgian authorities have not publicized the information and have helped her. Arena is a member of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) faction in the European Parliament and the Belgian Socialist Party.

An EU official said there has been no request by the Belgian authorities to lift her immunity — a prerequisite for police to arrest her. Three other MEPs — Eva Kaili, Andrea Cozzolino, and Marc Tarabella — have been given preliminary charges as part of the probe. 

The suspects’ lawyers allege serious problems with the way the Belgians have conducted the investigation. Because their clients, including, were unnecessarily targeted by Belgium despite there being no evidence against them. On the other hand, there was proof against Panzeri and Arena, and there was no action against them, even though the immunity of Marie Arena was not revoked. This exposes the Belgian authorities in how they conduct investigations and make blunders, even making the whole scandal Qatargate, but in reality, it is Belgiumgate.

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