Qatar corruption scandal: Italian court approves extradition of former MEP's wife to Belgium

Qatar corruption scandal: Italian court approves extradition of former MEP's wife to Belgium
An aerial view of the European Parliament as a police helicopter flies over the city center of Brussels, Tuesday 26 June 2018. Credit: Thierry Roge / Belga

An Italian court has ruled that a suspect in the corruption case involving the European Parliament can be extradited to Belgium. The suspect concerned is Maria Colleoni, wife of former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri who is at the heart of the scandal, De Morgen reports.

The Belgian judge investigating the case, Michel Claise, previously gave Italian authorities extradition requests for Panzeri's 38-year-old daughter and his 67-year-old wife, as it suspects that the two were aware of Panzeri's corrupt dealings and that they themselves were involved.

On Monday, a court in the northern Italian city of Brescia ruled that Colleoni could be extradited to Belgium, but any sentence served would have to be in Italy. However, extradition in the near future looks unlikely, as her lawyers are considering an appeal to Italy's Supreme Court. They have five days to make the appeal.

Moroccan influence

According to Belgian investigators, Morocco has tried to influence European institutions, with a view to reducing their support for Polisario Front, an armed, political movement in Western Sahara in Rabat, in which Morocco has an interest. Morocco relied on former MEP, Pier Antonio Panzeri, and his relations with the Maghreb countries during his second and last term between 2014 and 2019.

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Leaked confidential documents from 2012 show how Panzeri helped Morocco with files in the EU concerning fishing and agriculture. A Moroccan diplomat on a mission to Brussels is said to have informed his Minister of Foreign Affairs of meetings with Panzeri.

Belgian authorities have yet to establish the extent of Morocco's influence on the former MEP. But the investigation has already revealed that funds from Qatar passed through the accounts of an NGO called Fight Impunity, which Panzeri created at the end of his mandate in 2019.

Moreover, €600,000 were seized in Panzeri's flat in Brussels by investigators. Panzeri's former assistant Francesco Giorgi was arrested on the same day and his confession allowed investigators to learn how Panzeri tried to influence the European Parliament on behalf of Morocco.

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