It’s open business ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. But it bursts in the heart of the planetary event and the very day… of the international day of fight against corruption. Four people, including a former Italian MEP, were arrested this Friday, December 9 in Brussels as part of an investigation opened in mid-July 2022 by a Belgian financial judge on suspicion of corruption by Qatar within the European Parliament.
The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office announced these arrests without identifying the suspects, their nationality, or naming the country on which these suspicions of corruption within one of the major institutions of the EU weigh. But a source familiar with the matter confirmed to AFP press reports that Qatar is the target, while those arrested are Italians or of Italian origin.
- What is the investigation about?
At the heart of the investigation, led by a Brussels investigating judge: the actions of this Gulf country suspected of “influencing the economic and political decisions of the European Parliament, by paying substantial sums of money or by offering gifts important”, underlined the federal prosecutor’s office.
The investigation targets, among other things, acts of “corruption” and “money laundering” in an organized gang, further specifies a press release from the prosecution. According to the federal prosecutor’s office, the police operation gave rise to sixteen searches in total in various municipalities of the Belgian capital, where the European Parliament has its headquarters. “This operation was aimed in particular at parliamentary assistants working in the European Parliament”, continued the federal prosecutor’s office, competent in Belgium in cases of terrorism and organized crime.
- Who are the people targeted?
The beneficiaries are personalities with “a significant political and/or strategic position” within Parliament. According to the French daily The evening and the Flemish weekly Knackwho jointly investigated, the suspected former MEP is the Italian socialist Pier-Antonio Panzeri, who sat in this assembly from 2004 to 2019.
This 67-year-old man, now head of an association fighting against human rights violations (called Fight Impunity), was arrested in Brussels at the same time as three other suspects. The headquarters of this association was raided on Friday morning, according to information Evening. Asked by AFP, the association did not respond immediately.
According to the information Evening and of Knack, the secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC, or Ituc in English), the Italian Luca Visentini, is also among those arrested, as well as a parliamentary assistant and an NGO director. In a very succinct message on its site, the CSI said it was “aware of the information circulating in the press”, but refused to comment “at this stage”. Luca Visentini spoke again this week of the situation of workers in Qatar, in an interview broadcast this Friday by AFP. In particular, he called for “continuing to put pressure on the authorities and employers” for better pay and more labor mobility.
What discoveries did the police make?
During the operation, the police got their hands on “about 600,000 euros in cash”. According to the information Evening and of Knackthese approximately 600,000 euros in cash were discovered in the Brussels residence of the former MEP.
“Computer equipment and mobile phones” whose contents will be analyzed were also discovered. The gifts or benefits offered could be linked to Qatar’s desire to improve its maligned reputation for human rights and the treatment of workers.
Qatar, the host country of the 2022 World Cup, which ends in ten days, has been accused by NGOs of neglecting the working and living conditions of its hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from Asia and Africa. . In response, Doha has put forward unprecedented reforms to the labor code, welcomed by trade unions, which nevertheless call for more rigorous application. In addition, French justice has been investigating for three years on suspicions of corruption during a Franco-Qatari lunch at the Elysee Palace at the end of 2010 which would have influenced the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.