Home Featured Qatargate’s ‘useful idiots’ still work inside EU Parliament 
Qatargate’s ‘useful idiots’ still work inside EU Parliament 

Qatargate’s ‘useful idiots’ still work inside EU Parliament 

by host

BRUSSELS — Three sitting members of the European Parliament have already been charged in the so-called Qatargate case, the biggest corruption scandal to hit the European Union institutions in decades.

They aren’t the only alleged participants in the network, according to a vast trove of leaked documents from the police investigations seen by POLITICO.

Six other serving MEPs and one parliamentary official have been identified to police as among those caught up in the scheme — in which politicians and their associates allegedly took money or gifts from Qatar and other foreign governments in exchange for influencing EU policy and debates. 

These seven people still work in the Parliament.

They have not been charged in connection with the case. But their names are among those given to the Belgian authorities investigating the allegations by two of the chief suspects: former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, the network’s alleged ringleader, and his former assistant Francesco Giorgi. 

POLITICO has elected not to name them for legal reasons. The allegations in the documents include the claim that some of these MEPs benefited from a deal in which they were promised as much as €250,000 by a foreign official to fund their 2019 European election campaigns.

In another case, one MEP allegedly received a watch. The EU official accepted as much as €20,000 in cash, Panzeri and Giorgi claimed.

Soldiers and idiots

“In Panzeri’s network, there are two kinds of actors: those who are aware of the organization and corruption, those who feel obliged,” Giorgi told investigators. The members of the network, he said, were described as “soldiers.” 

“Most of them were in Panzeri’s eyes ‘useful idiots,’ and they were not aware of the system that he had put in place,” Giorgi added, in one of the documents seen by POLITICO. 

Giorgi also claimed that his former boss used different “levers and manipulation techniques” to convince people to do as he asked. These included: “his credibility as a former member of the European Parliament and President of Fight Impunity [an NGO]; money; romantic/sexual relationships; exchanges of favors like for example helping them to find a job.”

In addition to Panzeri and Giorgi, three serving MEPs have been arrested and hit with preliminary charges of corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal organization. All three —  Eva Kaili, Marc Tarabella and Andrea Cozzolino — deny involvement and can attend Parliament and vote as normal. 

The cash-for-influence scandal rocked the EU when it emerged in December 2022, cutting to the heart of its values of democracy, integrity and human rights, and triggering deep soul-searching in Brussels and Strasbourg, where the Parliament is based. 

Former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

According to investigators, the governments of Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania are suspected of enlisting the paid services of Panzeri and his associates as part of a concerted effort to manipulate the proceedings of the EU in their favor. 

The fact that Panzeri and Giorgi said individuals alleged to be part of the network continue to work as normal at the heart of EU democracy will raise fresh concerns over how much more may yet emerge in the scandal, just months before the European Parliament election. It also puts the conduct of the investigation by the Belgian authorities — and Parliament’s handling of the scandal — under renewed scrutiny. 

Broader network

Both Giorgi and Panzeri have changed their stories since they were arrested — Panzeri initially denied involvement and then later struck a plea deal. Giorgi also admitted his role but has since argued through his lawyer that his statements to police were made under duress. 

A cache of hundreds of pages of police evidence, which POLITICO has seen, shed new light on the case. 

The six MEPs and the EU official are allegedly among a broader network of around 15 people identified by Panzeri and Giorgi in their — often contradictory — evidence to detectives investigating the case.

A European Parliament spokesperson said the institution cannot comment on ongoing judicial proceedings but said it “remains fully cooperative with judicial national authorities” and is “firmly against” corruption. “It will deal swiftly with any potential request to waive MEPs’ immunity received from their end, if and when it is requested,” the spokesperson added. 

Qatar and Morocco have denied wrongdoing in the case and did not reply to requests for comment. Panzeri’s lawyer declined to comment.

Francesco Giorgi’s lawyer Pierre Monville said: “The elements you mention are not based on evidence but on what Mr Panzeri told Mr Giorgi. Whatever Giorgi has declared or written during his detention was under extreme pressure and preoccupation regarding the fact that his daughter was left without her parents.”

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