Qatar corruption scandal: Stunning testimony highlights sinister role of Panzeri

Qatar corruption scandal: Stunning testimony highlights sinister role of Panzeri
Former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri. Credit: Belga

Stunning new leaked testimony from a person at the heart of the Qatargate corruption scandal has revealed intriguing new details on the key role played by former MEP Antonio Panzeri in soliciting bribes from numerous government officials.

According to court documents seen by Le Soir, Francesco Giorgi, a 35-year-old former parliamentary advisor to Panzeri and partner of current MEP Eva Kaili (another key individual implicated in the scandal), revealed that Panzeri was initially contacted by the former chairman of Qatar's National Human Rights Committee, Ali bin Saeed bin Samikh Al-Marri, in 2018.

Giorgi recounted how Al-Marri, who is now the Gulf peninsula's Minister of Labour, personally broached the idea of Panzeri — who was then still an MEP — promulgating pro-Qatari legislation and viewpoints in the European Parliament in exchange for cash.

"At the beginning of 2019, cooperation began," Giorgi said. "We had defined the amounts, which I find a little difficult to remember, for our respective [political] interventions. It was in cash."

Giorgi's testimony directly contradicts Panzeri's own version of events, according to which he only began working for Qatar after his term as an MEP ended in July 2019.

A cavalcade of corruption

In his testimony, Giorgi claimed that both he and Panzeri also began illicitly working for the Moroccan Government "after 2019", and directly implicated the current Moroccan Ambassador to Poland, Abderrahim Atmoun, in the scandal.

"Provided that we worked to avoid resolutions against [Morocco], we would receive €50,000," Giorgi explained.

However, Giorgi noted that his and Panzeri's system of professionalised corruption only really began after the creation of the Panzeri-led Fight Impunity non-profit organisation in 2019: "It was necessary to find a clear system that would not alert the authorities."

Giorgi also suggested that, around the same time, both Panzeri and himself began receiving bribes from the Mauritanian Government.

"Mauritania had an image problem," Giorgi said. "They hired Panzeri to fix it. As for my remuneration, I rented my apartment on Rue de la Tulipe to the Mauritanian ambassador. The rent was my compensation. Panzeri received €25,000 in cash."

Kaili not culpable

Although Giorgi admitted that his partner, Kaili, was "obviously aware of the amounts of money and the origin, since we lived together", he denied that she was ever "part of the network" of corruption established by himself and Panzeri. Indeed, Giorgi claimed that Kaili "asked me several times to stop, because it put her at risk in relation to her duties" as an MEP.

Giorgi's version of events overlaps considerably with Kaili's: she, too, denies her involvement in the scandal, but admits to having knowledge of the contents of the cash-filled suitcases frequently left at her apartment by Panzeri.

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However, in direct contradiction to Giorgi's testimony, Kaili denies having any knowledge of the source of these funds, claiming that she simply "never thought about [their] origin".

Kaili also heavily criticised her partner's naivety, and even appeared to suggest that her relationship with Giorgi, with whom she has a 22-month-old daughter, might be over.

"I didn't like the way he blindly trusted Antonio [Panzeri]," she said. "I am at the stage where I no longer recognise anyone, not even my own partner anymore."

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