The most outrageous corruption scandal in the EU’s history, involving left-wing MEPs, known as Qatargate, is in danger of derailment due to procedural errors, as revealed in a leaked audio recording reported by Euractiv. In the recording, made public on 5 February, a senior investigator involved in the probe asserts that one of the key figures in the case, former Socialist MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, who admitted guilt in January 2023 and has since cooperated with the authorities,
In Brussels, the bombshell exploded in December 2022. After months of investigation and surveillance, Belgian police arrested Greek Socialist MEP Eva Kaili, who was then Vice-President of the European Parliament, along with her partner Francesco Giorgi and Panzeri. More than €1.5 million in cash was found in the homes of Kaili and Panzeri. Additionally, authorities apprehended Kaili’s father as he attempted to flee from a hotel in Brussels with a suitcase full of cash.
Kaili and her fellow MEPs, including left-wing MEPs Andrea Cozzolino and Marc Tarabella, are accused of having accepted bribes from Qatari and Moroccan officials in exchange for voting in the European Parliament in favour of the interests of the Middle Eastern states.
In several instances the implicated MEPs spent days abroad using funds from Qatar and Morocco. Furthermore, in addition to casting their own votes, MEPs attempted to influence European decision-making and launder money through non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Despite a wealth of incriminating evidence, little progress has been made in over a year of investigation. This is partly attributed to the efforts of Kaili and her lawyers, who are vigorously obstructing the investigation. The former EP vice-president spent four months in custody but
has since been released and allowed to resume her duties as a MEP.
Similarly, Tarabella, who spent two months detained, has already participated in EP voting last year—notably voting against Hungary on the issue of the EU presidency.
In interviews and court submissions, Eva Kaili and Francesco Giorgi have accused prosecutors of mishandling the investigation. The lawyers representing the main defendant argue that Kaili was mistreated in prison, alleging that she was kept in cold conditions, denied an extra blanket, not permitted to turn off her lights, and reportedly not allowed to bathe despite menstruating.
Kaili continues to deny all allegations and maintains that her lobbying for Qatar was part of her duties as a MEP. Furthermore, she argues that the investigation against her violates the parliamentary immunity granted to MEPs.
The aforementioned recording was secretly made by Giorgi back in May 2023, during a search of his home conducted by the investigator Ceferino Álvarez Rodríguez. In addition to referring to Panzeri as a liar, Rodríguez has been highly critical of the judges involved in the case, reportedly saying:
‘I don’t have confidence in justice because justice is pulled by strings, by politicians.’
The federal prosecutor’s office has confirmed its awareness of this audio extract and has announced that a procedure is underway before the indictment chamber to examine ‘the legality of a certain number of investigative actions’.
According to the Belgian press, the tape complicates the case, making it more difficult to bring the defendants to trial. Giorgi and his lawyer, Pierre Monville, reportedly announced their intention to use the tape as part of the court proceedings before the indictment chamber.