Qatargate: Key suspect in E.U. corruption scandal strikes plea deal


BRUSSELS — A key suspect in a corruption case that rocked the European Parliament has cut a deal with Belgian authorities, agreeing to share details on an alleged cash-for-influence scheme — potentially exposing more European Union dirt — in return for a lesser sentence.

Pier Antonio Panzeri, an Italian politician who was an elected member of the E.U.’s legislative body from 2004 until 2019, signed a memorandum with Belgian officials on Tuesday, admitting his role in the alleged fraud and promising to name names, including “the identity of persons he admits to having bribed.”

Under the terms of the deal, Panzeri will receive a “reduced sentence” with an unspecified prison time. He will also have assets confiscated. The statement from Belgian prosecutors notes that this is only the second time in Belgian legal history that the “pentiti law” — a reference to Italian laws allowing investigation into the mafia — has been used.

E.U. corruption probe is a gift to the bloc’s critics

News of Panzeri’s cooperation is the latest twist in a widening corruption probe that is already being called the most significant E.U. scandal in recent memory.

After a series of police raids in December, Panzeri and several others were charged on suspicion of money laundering, corruption and taking part in a criminal organization on behalf of an unnamed “Gulf State,” widely reported to be Qatar.

The other suspects include Eva Kaili, a Greek member of the European Parliament who was until last month one of the body’s 14 vice presidents, and her partner, parliamentary assistant Francesco Giorgi. Kaili’s lawyer said she maintains her innocence. Qatar denies involvement.

What are the Qatar bribery allegations rocking the European Parliament?

Although the details of the alleged fraud are still coming to light, Belgian police found more than 1.5 million euros ($1.59 million) in cash spread between homes and a hotel. Ten parliamentary offices have been sealed. Authorities tweeted photos showing a suitcase stuffed with wads of cash.

On Monday, the European Parliament began the process of lifting the immunity of two additional members, which would allow them to be interviewed as part of the probe.

The case — and its mafia-like details — has shaken the de facto capital of the European Union, raising questions about corruption and influence peddling, particularly in the European Parliament, and leading to fresh calls for ethics oversight.

Top E.U. officials have promised to toughen ethics rules, though those efforts are still in early stages — and face criticism for being too weak.

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