Belgian MEP Marie Arena (S&D) stayed at a luxury hotel in Morocco in 2015 on a trip largely funded by the Moroccan Government, according to a new leaked testimony from disgraced Italian former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri (S&D).
Panzeri, who has already confessed to taking bribes from Morocco and Qatar and is now actively collaborating with the Belgian authorities in exchange for a reduced jail sentence, alleged that Arena stayed at the five-star La Mamounia hotel in Marrakech with him "for two or three" days. However, he also claimed that the 56-year-old Belgian lawmaker was unaware of who actually sponsored the trip.
"In 2015, there was a trip with Marie Arena," Panzeri said in sworn testimony seen by Le Soir and Italian newspaper La Repubblica. "She accompanied me for two or three days to La Mamounia, where we met with the Saharawi community [an ethnic group native to the Western Sahara desert and southern Morocco]."
"I think that Marie Arena thinks that I was the one who invited her but, in reality, everything was taken care of by [Abderrahim] Atmoun," he added, referring to the Moroccan Ambassador to Poland who is believed to have funnelled money and resources from the Moroccan Government to Panzeri and his associates.
In January, Arena, who has not been formally charged by the Belgian authorities, resigned from her position as Chair of the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), after Politico reported she had failed to properly declare that her accommodation and flights to and from Doha on 8 and 9 May last year had been paid for by the Qatari Government.
In his testimony, Panzeri also stated that he had stayed at La Mamounia in 2017 or 2018, when he was accompanied by his former parliamentary assistant Francesco Giorgi and the latter's partner, Greek MEP Eva Kaili (S&D). Both Giorgi and Kaili are currently under investigation for corruption by the Belgian authorities.
"These trips were totally [excluding extras] organised and taken care of by Mr Atmoun," said Panzeri. "He was texting us the flight numbers. We had no steps to take."
Contacted by Le Soir, Arena declined to comment about the details of the 2015 trip. Lawyers for Giorgi and Kaili similarly refused to comment about the later trip.
Since formally agreeing to cooperate with the Belgian authorities in January this year, Panzeri has repeatedly attempted to absolve Arena of any wrongdoing. Indeed, Panzeri's lawyer, Laurent Kennes, has previously cited his client's desire to exonerate Arena as one of the key reasons why the 67-year-old Italian eventually decided to collaborate.
"One of the reasons why Mr Panzeri wanted to speak out is because he knows that he betrayed the trust of certain people and Marie Arena is one of them," Kennes said. "He believes that she is a very upright person, who should not have been accused as is the case here. He will quote her name to say that she has absolutely nothing to do [with the scandal]."
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As Le Soir points out, however, there is some circumstantial evidence which suggests that Marie Arena might indeed have been guilty of wrongdoing.
During a wiretapped phone call held shortly after an infamous DROI Committee meeting with the Qatari Minister of Labour on 14 November, Panzeri reportedly thanked Arena for her interventions and claimed that the Qatari Minister was "satisfied" with the proceedings.
Contacted by Le Soir, Arena declined to comment about the details of the phone call.