Corruption scandal: Pier Antonio Panzeri admits guilt and signs deal to share 'revealing' details

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By Jorge Liboreiro
Pier Antonio Panzeri has signed a deal to share details with Belgian authorities.
Pier Antonio Panzeri has signed a deal to share details with Belgian authorities.   -   Copyright  European Union.

Pier Antonio Panzeri, the former MEP suspected of being at the epicentre of the corruption scandal engulfing the European Parliament, on Tuesday struck a deal with the Belgian authorities under which he admits his criminal participation in bribery and pledges to share "revealing" information that can help shed light on the widening investigation.

Panzeri has signed a so-called "repentance agreement" to deepen his collaboration with authorities, the Belgian Federal Prosecutor's Office has announced, calling it an "important development."

"This (deal) refers to an undertaking whereby a repentant to make substantial, revealing, truthful and complete statements regarding the involvement of third parties and, if applicable, his or her own involvement regarding criminal offenses within the covered case," the prosecutor's office said in a press release.

Under the memorandum, Panzeri commits to sharing details such as the modus operandi of the alleged corruption ring, financial agreements with other countries, and the identity of stakeholders and "known and unknown" people that "he admits to having bribed."

The probe is looking into a potential cash-for-favour scheme involving "large sums of money" paid by a country in the Persian Gulf, widely identified as Qatar, with the aim to influence the European Union's policy-making.

Morocco has in recent weeks emerged as an alleged player in the graft operation.

Both Qatar and Morocco vigorously deny the allegations.

Panzeri to receive 'five-year sentence'

Since the scandal erupted last month, leaked confessions and media reports have suggested that Panzeri, a three-term Italian socialist who left the parliament in 2019, acted as the prime intermediary between the bags of money and the hemicycle's premises.

Over €600,000 in cash was reportedly found at his home.

Panzeri has been in prison since mid-December, charged with participating in a criminal organisation "as a leader," money laundering, and "active and passive" corruption.

The other three individuals currently detained are Greek MEP Eva Kaili, her domestic partner Francesco Giorgi and NGO director Niccolò Figà-Talamanca.

Belgian authorities have requested the lifting of immunity of two additional socialist MEPs: Marc Tarabella (Belgium) and Andrea Cozzolino (Italy).

According to Belgian media, Panzeri has confessed to handing over €120,000 in cash to Tarabella over several installments in relation to the latter's work on Qatar-related issues.

Tarabella's lawyer insists his client has never accepted any money or gift from Qatar.

Under the cooperation deal, Panzeri will receive a "limited sentence" with a still undefined prison term, a fine and the confiscation of his seized assets, which the prosecutor estimates to be worth one million euros.

"It is the second time in Belgian legal history, since the introduction of the so-called 'pentiti' law (pentiti regret, referring to the Italian law allowing investigations into the Mafia), that these proceedings result in the signing of a memorandum," the prosecutor's office said.

No further details were provided in the press release.

Panzeri's lawyer, Laurent Kennes, told Euronews his client would receive a five-year sentence, but the part that exceeds one year would be "suspended."

"He must remain in prison or under electronic surveillance for one year, no more, no less," Kennes said.

Panzeri will also be slapped with a suspended fine of €80,000, with a further €1 million to be confiscated. 

Who is Pier Antonio Panzeri?

First elected in 2004, Pier Antoni Panzeri focused his time as a European legislator on employment, social rights, foreign affairs, global security and development aid.

He chaired the European Parliament's delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries from 2009 to 2017. He then became chair of the subcommittee on human rights, a position he held until 2019.

As a former MEP, Panzeri had the right to a permanent access badge to the parliament's premises.

In September 2019, mere months after the European elections, Panzeri founded a non-profit organisation in Brussels called Fight Impunity, whose stated purpose is to "promote the fight against impunity for serious violations of human rights and crimes against humanity."

Fight Impunity, which does not appear on the EU's Transparency Register — a database on which individuals and organisations that try to influence the EU's law-making and policy implementation process are supposed to be listed — shares the same address as another NGO, No Peace Without Justice.

Both No Peace Without Justice and Fight Impunity are suspected of being exploited to launder money.

Belgian authorities believe Panzeri's wife, Maria Dolores Colleoni, and daughter, Silvia Panzeri, were aware of the illicit lobbying and have requested their extradition from Italy.

The two women deny the accusations and have appealed their extradition.