A key suspect in the EU Qatargate scandal, former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, reached a deal on Tuesday with Belgian prosecutors to divulge information about countries involved and bribes made.
In return, he was being offered a “limited sentence” that includes imprisonment, a fine and confiscation of one million euros ($1.1 million) in assets, the prosecutors said in a statement.
Prosecutors said Panzeri agreed to the plea deal under an informant law used only once before in Belgium.
The development was a dramatic turn in the corruption scandal in which prosecutors suspect Qatar and Morocco funneled bribes through Panzeri and other figures to influence decisions in the European Parliament. Qatar has denied any wrongdoing and Morocco has accused the media of making unjustified “attacks”.
Panzeri is one of four suspects in pre-trial detention in Belgium following police raids on addresses last month that turned up 1.5 million euros in cash.
The searches were conducted in the homes and offices of MEPs, former MEPs, parliamentary aides, and the heads of NGOs that dealt with the parliament.
Qatargate suspects charged with criminal organization, corruption and money laundering
The other three suspects are: Greek MEP Eva Kaili, stripped of her position as one of the parliament’s 14 vice presidents after her arrest; her Italian boyfriend Francesco Giorgi, a parliamentary aide; and Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, the Italian head of an NGO.
Panzeri, a 67-year-old former lawmaker, heads another NGO suspected of receiving money from certain countries to pay serving MEPs to sway parliamentary decision-making on issues important to those countries.
Belgian media said Panzeri was put under surveillance by Belgian intelligence services for at least a month before his arrest. The reports said he received money from Morocco to promote its interests in the parliament.
Prosecutors said that, under the terms of the deal, Panzeri committed to truthfully tell investigators all about “the identity of the persons he admits to having bribed”. He is also to divulge his methods, the “financial arrangements with other involved countries” and “the involvement of known and unknown persons within the investigation”.
Belgian prosecutors have requested the European Parliament to lift the immunity of two other MEPs, Belgian Marc Tarabella and Italian Andrea Cozzolino, to further their investigations. The legislature has launched that procedure, likely to be completed next month.
Kaili was not able to assert immunity because a Belgian judge deemed that she was caught red-handed.
European Parliament chief Roberta Metsola announced on Monday proposals to clean up the legislature and protect it from “corruption” and “foreign interference”.
They include more checks on who gets access to parliamentary premises, restricting MEPs’ activities with non-EU countries, and having a public register of MEPs’ finances.