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Corruption scandal: Pier Antonio Panzeri, presumed ringleader, out of jail with electronic bracelet

Pier Antonio Panzeri has signed a cooperation deal with Belgian authorities to share "revealing" details about the alleged corruption ring inside the European Parliament.
Pier Antonio Panzeri has signed a cooperation deal with Belgian authorities to share "revealing" details about the alleged corruption ring inside the European Parliament. Copyright European Union, 2018.
Copyright European Union, 2018.
By Euronews
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Pier Antonio Panzeri has signed a deal with Belgian authorities to share "revealing" details about the alleged cash-for-favour scheme.

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Pier Antonio Panzeri, the former socialist MEP widely suspected of being the ringleader behind the corruption scandal that has rocked the European Parliament, was on Thursday granted his release from prison after almost four months behind bars.

Panzeri will remain in pre-trial detention and criminally charged but will now wear an electronic bracelet, the Belgian Federal Prosecutor's Office confirmed to Euronews.

The decision was made by a judge after a hearing in Brussels on Thursday morning.

Panzeri will be released in the coming days and will have to face the judge every two months, the prosecutor's office said, which means his fate could still change.

Panzeri was arrested in mid-December and charged with participation in a criminal organisation, corruption and money laundering.

These charges were also applied to Greek MEP Eva Kaili, her domestic partner Francesco Giorgi, NGO director Niccolò Figà-Talamanca and Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella.

Giorgi and Figà-Talamanca have been released from jail, although Giorgi is also under electronic monitoring, while Kaili and Tarabella remain behind bars. 

Meanwhile, Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino, who reportedly faces the same criminal charges, is fighting extradition from Italy to Belgium.

The five individuals have consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Panzeri is considered the piece that ties together all the characters in the sprawling cash-for-favours scheme that involved "large sums of money" allegedly paid by Qatar and Morocco with the aim of influencing policy-making inside the European Parliament. 

Qatar and Morocco vigorously deny the allegations, calling them unfounded.

The case, known as Qatargate, took a surprising turn in mid-January when Panzeri signed a so-called "repentance agreement" with Belgian authorities in which he committed to sharing "substantial" and "revealing" details about the alleged cash exchanges.

Under the deal, Panzeri admitted his criminal participation and pledged to identify those whom he had supposedly bribed.

He also accepted a limited prison sentence, a fine and the confiscation of his seized assets.

"Mr Panzeri confesses today to having actively participated in acts of corruption in connection with Qatar and in connection with Morocco and therefore to having been corrupted and to having corrupted others," his lawyer, Laurent Kennes, told Euronews in January after the deal was signed.

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Panzeri's revelations are said to have played a part in the cases of Eva Kaili and Marc Tarabella, whose defence teams have challenged the Italian's credibility as a witness.

It's unclear if the deal had any influence on Thursday's judicial decision.

Who is Pier Antonio Panzeri?

A three-term socialist MEP, Pier Antonio Panzeri was first elected to the European Parliament in 2004. 

He focused his time as a European legislator on employment, social rights, foreign affairs, global security and development aid.

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He chaired the 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 he left the parliament in 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 did 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 on — shared the same address as No Peace Without Justice, the NGO led by Niccolò Figà-Talamanca.

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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.

According to Belgian newspaper Le Soir, Giorgi acted as translator for Panzeri, his former boss, during meetings with Qatari officials because the Italian MEP did not know how to speak English.

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