Pier Antonio Panzeri – one of the figures at the centre of the Qatargate corruption scandal – is set to be released from prison within the next few days. The Italian former MEP will instead be placed under house arrest at his Brussels apartment with an electronic ankle bracelet to monitor his movements.
Panzeri has been held in police custody since his arrest in Brussels on 9 December last year. According to Le Soir, the 67-year-old will only be able to leave his apartment for "exceptional" reasons, including for court appearances and hospital visits.
He has already admitted his involvement in the scandal, according to which he and other European parliamentary officials accepted bribes and other favours from the Qatari and Moroccan Governments in exchange for their support for pro-Qatari and pro-Moroccan legislation.
In January, the 67-year-old signed a so-called "repentance agreement" with the Belgian authorities, whereby he agreed to collaborate with investigators in exchange for a reduced prison sentence.
Panzeri's release means that among the European officials detained thus far by the Belgian authorities in connection with the scandal, only Greek MEP Eva Kaili and Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella currently remain in prison.
Playing the blame game?
Among other notable allegations, since signing the repentance agreement Panzeri has accused Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella of accepting illicit funds of up to €140,000 to support pro-Qatari policies. Panzeri further alleges that Tarabella was set to receive up to €250,000 by the end of the latter's parliamentary term in 2024.
Tarabella's defence lawyer, Maxim Töller, has vehemently denied Panzeri's allegations and even questioned the Italian's credibility as a witness.
"Panzeri has every interest, in order to benefit from a reduction in his sentence, to give as much information as possible to investigators," Töller said. "There is no guarantee that what [Panzeri] is saying is the truth; everything will be fine for him as long as he is not caught in the act of lying... He accuses Tarabella in the most infamous of ways, where it is impossible to demonstrate that the allegations are not true."
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Tarabella was transferred at the end of last month from a prison in Brussels to one closer to his family home in Wallonia. Following a prison visit in February, Töller described his client as "weakened [and] incredibly lonely", adding that "he thinks about his wife, his children, and his colleagues".
Töller also condemned his client's detention conditions as "unbearable", and suggested that the Belgian authorities were "condemning him to social death".