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A whole bunch of leaked paperwork reveal scale of EU corruption scandal  – POLITICO

A whole bunch of leaked paperwork reveal scale of EU corruption scandal  – POLITICO

2023-12-07 04:08:55

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Name them the Qatargate annual stories.

An unlimited cache of leaked paperwork from the police investigation into the largest corruption case to hit the EU in many years — seen by POLITICO — uncovers the complete extent of the European Parliament’s money-for-influence scandal.

Over 4 years the information counsel that key suspects, together with former Member of the European Parliament Pier Antonio Panzeri and his aide Francesco Giorgi, meticulously recorded alleged makes an attempt to govern the Parliament, the EU’s foremost democratic physique, and wider coverage debates.

Their suspected paymasters in Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania spent round €4 million for the work, in keeping with claims within the information.

The scandal first got here to mild precisely a yr in the past this week, when Panzeri, Giorgi and different key figures have been arrested in a sequence of dramatic raids involving baggage of money and lurid tales of international interference on the coronary heart of EU democracy. 

Learn extra: Denial, grief, acceptance: Inside the Qatargate police interrogations  – POLITICO

The actions recorded within the paperwork embrace some with a big affect on the workings of the European Union — comparable to scheming to kill off six parliamentary resolutions condemning Qatar’s human rights file, and dealing to ship a visa-free journey deal between Doha and the EU. 

However the operations is also petty: Giorgi as soon as famous that each copy of an unflattering ebook on Qatar that may very well be discovered throughout the Parliament had been diligently “destroyed.” 

Among the many information seen by POLITICO was an eight-tab spreadsheet on Giorgi’s laptop computer, seized at his flat in Brussels, itemizing a whole lot of affect actions the community allegedly carried out between 2018 and 2022.

The spreadsheet data greater than 300 items of labor for which the suspects acquired good-looking charges. They allegedly achieved their ends utilizing a community of associates working contained in the Parliament, whom they known as their “troopers,” in keeping with the information.

Up to now the inquiry has seen 4 present and former MEPs arrested on preliminary costs of corruption, cash laundering and membership of a felony group. The suspects embrace Panzeri, Giorgi and Eva Kaili, Giorgi’s associate and a Brussels high-flier who was ousted from her function because the Parliament’s vp when the scandal broke.

Whereas investigators suspect that Panzeri and his community have been manipulating the Parliament on behalf of Qatar and different states, the paperwork counsel they have been additionally making an attempt to use international officers’ lack of understanding about EU democracy. 

Giorgi instructed police he and his boss would generally inform their paymasters about operations over which that they had no sensible affect, as Panzeri misrepresented the extent of his energy to form the Parliament’s work, in keeping with the paperwork. 

Former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri misrepresented the extent of his energy to form the Parliament’s work, in keeping with the paperwork | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP by way of Getty Photographs

“It relied on the ignorance of how parliament works,” Giorgi mentioned in statements to the police. 

An individual acquainted with Giorgi’s authorized protection, talking on situation of anonymity, mentioned it was “not credible” to consider the spreadsheet as proof of the affect actions. As an alternative, the individual mentioned, the record was designed to “enhance” Panzeri’s picture to his shoppers.

Whether or not they’re a file of precise affect work or only a instrument to inflate the invoice, the spreadsheet entries supply a novel glimpse into the workings of the affect machine constructed and run by Panzeri, Giorgi and their alleged accomplices, till a police investigation in December 2022 introduced all of it to an abrupt finish. The paperwork additionally elevate questions over how such affect operations may go unnoticed for thus lengthy.

As European leaders confront the ignominious one-year anniversary of the scandal, which erupted on December 9 final yr, the disclosures contained within the Qatargate Recordsdata will submit the EU’s moral requirements to intense scrutiny as soon as once more. 

The alleged operations included: 

The massive deal 

* Working for Qatar, Giorgi and Panzeri have been constructing as much as one larger prize: making certain that Doha clinched an settlement for visa-free journey with the EU. The deal acquired a vital inexperienced mild within the Parliament’s civil liberties committee in December 2022, days earlier than Giorgi and Panzeri have been arrested. A closing vote on the deal has been put on hold for the reason that scandal erupted.

The win makes it to the spreadsheet. Different paperwork from Giorgi’s laptop computer reveal he supposed to counsel to the Qataris two “Motion Plan[s]” detailing whom to contact and the place to exert strain to safe the visa settlement. 

* A precondition for securing the visa deal, Giorgi and Panzeri argued, was staving off makes an attempt by some MEPs to censure Qatar for its remedy of migrant staff and journalists. In his spreadsheet, Giorgi takes credit score for “neutralizing” six parliamentary resolutions condemning Qatar between June 2021 and November 2022. The Parliament did, nonetheless, ultimately pass a resolution criticizing Qatar’s human rights file on November 24, 2022.

Manipulating parliamentary hearings  

* Qatar’s soccer World Cup preparations have been topic to intense criticism over the alleged exploitation of migrant staff. Giorgi’s spreadsheet boasted they “modified narrative in parliament” on the problem, throughout a committee listening to in April 2021 that includes an look by a Qatari official.

* In February 2020, the suspects ready detailed notes for an look by Qatar’s international minister on the Parliament’s international affairs committee. Additionally they ensured the presence of sure MEPs “for focused questions.”

Political assaults on Qatar’s rivals 

* One operation in 2021, for instance, focused the appointment of a senior police official from the United Arab Emirates, Naser Al-Raisi, as the brand new president of Interpol. Relations between Qatar and UAE, its Gulf neighbor, had been fraught, with diplomatic ties severed between 2017 and 2021. Like many politicians and NGOs on the time, Panzeri’s buddy, MEP Maria Area, urged EU nations to withstand Al-Raisi’s nomination. Panzeri and Giorgi took credit score for Area’s letter, although it’s unclear whether or not she knew they have been doing so. Area’s lawyer instructed POLITICO she had not been charged as a part of the police inquiry and declined to remark additional. 

* One other operation focused Saudi Arabia, which had minimize diplomatic and financial relations with Qatar. Panzeri and Giorgi billed Qatar for a bundle of actions together with a sequence of tweets and movie screenings referring to the homicide of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi, whereas strongly condemning Riyadh’s accountability for the killing.

Morocco and Mauritania 

* When it got here to defending Morocco, Panzeri and Giorgi took pleasure in passing a parliamentary decision in opposition to Algeria, which they mentioned would profit Morocco. 

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* The group additionally bragged of clinching a “extra reasonable textual content” on a resolution that criticized Morocco over its dealing with of a migration disaster in 2021. The decision censured Morocco for alleviating border controls and permitting 8,000 migrants together with unaccompanied kids to cross into Spanish territory throughout a dispute with the Madrid authorities. 

* Based on the paperwork, Mauritania’s important purpose was to enhance its public picture. Giorgi’s spreadsheet instructed that the group labored to attempt to cease an anti-slavery activist, who had made enemies within the Mauritanian authorities, from successful the EU’s prestigious Sakharov Prize for human rights. 

The revelations included within the Qatargate Recordsdata are prone to reignite debate within the Parliament about whether or not the legislature has itself finished sufficient to make sure comparable operations don’t occur once more. Whereas the Parliament has launched tighter procedures in response to the scandal, many in Brussels regard the reforms as half-hearted, at best.

“These paperwork present us that this was a sustained, multiannual effort to nefariously affect parliamentary procedures,” mentioned Nick Aiossa, performing director of Transparency Worldwide EU. “It occurred over years with a number of individuals, and it wasn’t found. So what else is on the market?”

“The response by the Parliament has been weak, meager and positively doesn’t communicate to the severity of the scandal that occurred final December,” Aiossa added.

Daniel Freund, a German Greens MEP, acknowledged in response to POLITICO’s investigation: “It appears the scheme is lots larger than what we had to this point learnt.”

He mentioned the principle downside was that the Parliament has not performed an inner inquiry into the affect of the alleged affect operations on its democratic actions and selections. 

Freund mentioned: “It appears you should buy or at the least affect sure selections within the Parliament, or on the very least there are some former MEPs that attempt to make everyone imagine which you could and are promoting that as a product.”

“It turns into ever clearer that there might need been quite a few procedures [in the Parliament] which might be put into query, on the very least,” Freund mentioned. “Now it wants a correct course of contained in the Parliament, that we take a look at [whether this is] simply inflated bullshit from these two … or is it actual? Has there been affect on any of these procedures? Do we now have to rethink sure selections?”

A spokesperson for the Parliament mentioned the establishment couldn’t conduct an inner investigation into potential felony actions. “However it may well cooperate totally and promptly with the competent authorities, and that is what we now have finished,” the spokesperson mentioned. Parliament President Roberta Metsola had “personally facilitated the investigation” by being “current on the home searches of two Belgian MEPs (in December 2022 and in July 2023) as requested by the Belgian Structure, one thing unprecedented within the EP’s historical past,” the spokesperson added. 

Following the primary allegations of corruption, Metsola offered 14 measures to bolster the Parliament’s firewalls and enhance transparency. The legislature has additionally joined the Belgian authorized case as a civil plaintiff with a purpose to “detect if any injury to the EP funds has been finished in any of the actions and recuperate the cash,” the spokesperson mentioned.

Morocco’s international affairs minister, who has beforehand denied the nation’s involvement within the scandal, didn’t reply to a number of requests for remark from POLITICO. Qatar has rejected allegations it interfered in EU democracy. Mauritania has not responded to a number of emailed questions on its alleged involvement within the scheme. 

Kaili has denied all wrongdoing. “The investigation reveals that Ms Kaili has by no means spoken in favor of Morocco or Mauritania,” Kaili’s lawyer Michalis Dimitrakopoulos mentioned in an electronic mail to POLITICO. “Based on paperwork from the investigation, the Belgian secret companies underlined that there was no proof that Ms Kaili was concerned within the community, or that she acquired any cash.”

Panzeri has admitted guilt in a plea deal he struck with authorities, which emerged in January. Giorgi has acknowledged his involvement within the schemes, in keeping with the information seen by POLITICO. Legal professionals for the 2 males declined to remark for this text.

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