'Qatargate' corruption case discovered during investigation by Belgium's intelligence services

'Qatargate' corruption case discovered during investigation by Belgium's intelligence services
Credit: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga

The judicial investigation into possible bribery of MEPs by "a Gulf state" started after an intelligence investigation by Belgium's State Security services, confirmed Federal Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne.

Since the end of last week, an investigation into "a Persian Gulf country" that is "trying to influence the economic and political decisions of the European Parliament" has been making headlines across Belgium, the EU and the world.

The country, since confirmed to be Qatar, reportedly tried to influence decisions by paying large sums of money or offering large gifts to people with important positions in the European Parliament. On Friday and Saturday, special units raided 20 places in the Brussels-Capital Region at various MEPs and their employees.

Ten offices were sealed. Six people were arrested, but two of them were released after questioning. Three of the four suspects held in custody appeared before the court on Wednesday: former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, Francesco Giorgi and Nicolo Figa-Talamanca. The case for the fourth suspect, Eva Kaili, has been postponed to 22 December.

Investigation based on Belgian State Security

In the meantime, the weekly magazine Knack and the newspaper Le Soir have reported that the judicial investigation started after an intelligence investigation by the State Security service. As its name states, its most important task is to gather information about activities that may pose a threat to the security of the state – which includes "interference in decision-making processes."

As early as 2021, State Security already launched an intelligence investigation into interference by a foreign power. Now, that investigation led to the judicial inquiry that is now making headlines across the European Union, and the world.

On Wednesday morning, De Standaard already reported that "a report from the intelligence services, which was drawn up a few months ago" is the basis of the judicial investigation. Now, Knack and Le Soir report that this was an investigation by State Security, working together with five European sister services.

A crucial step in the State Security intelligence investigation was a search (Special Intelligence Methods – BIM, in Dutch and French) of the home of Panzeri, who has since been arrested. Reportedly, €700,000 in cash was found there.

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As a result of that find, Knack reports, there were sufficient indications of alleged criminal offences, which resulted in parts of the State Security intelligence file being declassified and transferred to the Public Prosecutor's Office on 12 July 2022. At that point, the judicial investigation could begin.

In the meantime, Federal Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne confirmed that the judicial investigation is indeed based on information from State Security, but his cabinet cannot confirm any other information.

"This is the SKY-ECC of bribery," Van Quickenborne told Knack and Le Soir, referring to the cracking of coded telephones used by drug mafia in early 2021. "A game changer that State Security has been working on for more than a year, together with foreign intelligence services, to map suspected bribery of Members of the European Parliament by various countries."

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