What is known about the Moroccan connection in the biggest corruption scandal in the European Parliament

The corruption scandal that has shaken the European Union (EU) for weeks with several arrested socialist MEPs, the so-called ‘Catargate’, worsened with the appearance on the scene of another actor, Morocco, a country with many interests in Brussels.

Abderrahim Atmoun, ambassador of the Alaouite kingdom in Poland, is the main suspect. His name appears on the arrest warrant sent by Belgium to Italy in which he requested the handover of the wife and daughter of one of the detainees, the former Italian Social Democratic MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri.

It is suspected that both collected “gifts” at the Moroccan diplomatic legation in Warsaw in exchange for praise and favor his country in community decisions.

Former union leader and founder of Fight Impunity, Panzeri was arrested after the Police found 700,000 euros in cash at his home. In his years as an MEP (2004-2019) he maintained a close relationship with the high echelons of Moroccan power.

“Bribery Ring”

the belgian newspaper le soir reported that Atmoun is part of a bribery network in which two agents of the Moroccan espionage service abroad are also implicated. According to the newspaper, Atmoun and Panzeri describe themselves as “good friends”.

Rabat has a very powerful lobby in Brussels, given what is at stake on several fronts: the fishing agreements with the European Union (EU), the disputes around the status of Western Sahara, the immigration issue, relations with Spain or European collaboration in security matters and in the fight against terrorism.

Several MEPs have revealed to the press these days details about how lobbies act, including the Moroccan one, in Brussels.

“None of this is new for those of us who walk through the European Parliament. It is a general comment that, during the plenary sessions, the Moroccan embassy has practically a permanent office in the MEPs bar. The question is what consequences this has,” leftist MEP Miguel Urbán, from Anticapitalistas, wrote on Twitter.

And he added: “For years the Socialists have systematically blocked any debate or resolution in the Strasbourg plenary session that openly criticizes Morocco or denounces the situation in the occupied Sahara.”

Urbán explained in an article in the magazine South wind that “in the current context of a crisis of legitimacy and global governance of multilateral organizations” decisions on international issues “have been acquiring a significant impact in third countries”.

“This has attracted the interest of numerous dictatorships, with a lot of money and few scruples, to try to use Parliament and the MEPs to wash their international public image or, at least, to mitigate any criticism that could come out of the Eurochamber”, pointed.

“Influence and Bribe”

Speaking to R.F.I.the former Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes said that Morocco “was one of the countries that always tried to influence and bribe deputies”.

Former Vice President of the European Parliament will remain in pretrial detention for bribery from Qatar

The Moroccan connection adds to the main plot of ‘Catargate’, already considered one of the biggest cases of corruption in the history of community institutions, in which the small emirate would have paid large sums of money and gifts to members of the European Parliamentadvisors and lobbyists to ‘sell’ a good image of the Gulf country that hosts the World Cup.

For now, the judicial investigation by the Belgian authorities has resulted in several detainees, some of whom have already been released, has seized more than 1.5 million euros in cash and has left a huge stain on the image of the EU, what often boasts of being free of corruption.

Qatar has denied before the EU representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, the “misleading media leaks” of the plot. Rabat has not commented.

Black Friday

The plot broke out last Friday, December 9, when the Belgian media outlets Le Soir and Knack leaked the information that the Belgian authorities launched an operation against European legislators that resulted in six arrests and a dozen searches in various offices and other places.

Later, in a statement, the Belgian Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that for months the police authorities “suspect that a Gulf country influences the economic and political decisions of the European Parliamentand it does so by means of considerable sums of money or offering important gifts to people with a significant political and/or strategic position within the European Parliament”.

All the spotlights fell on the Greek MEP Eva Kaili, 44, a former television presenter who has been part of the European Parliament since 2014 with the European Socialist Party (PES).

That day she was arrested and ended up accused of the crimes of corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal organization. She could not benefit from parliamentary immunity, because she was arrested in flagrante delicto at her home, where investigators found bags filled with hundreds of thousands of euros. His father, Alexandros Kailis, was also arrested while trying to flee a Brussels hotel with 600,000 euros in a briefcase. Shortly after he was released.

The MEP was in favor of liberalizing visas between Qatar and the EU and praised the working conditions in the small emirate despite the fact that, according to press reports, several thousand workers died in the construction of stadiums and other built infrastructure for the Soccer World Cup.

She was removed from all her positions and from the party, and, although she pleaded “not guilty”, the Belgian Justice extended her preventive detention for at least one more month.

Other detainees

Along with her, her partner, Francesco Giorgi, a parliamentary assistant and adviser to the NGO Fight Impunity, dedicated to combating impunity for human rights violations and whose headquarters was also searched, is also still detained.

Giorgi, 35 years old and who has a daughter with Kaili, would have confessed to being part of ‘Catargate’, according to documents revealed by the Belgian and Italian press and which indicate that he indicated as plot mastermind to Panzeriof which he was an assistant for more than 10 years.

Former union leader and founder of Fight Impunity, this Italian social democrat was arrested after the Police found 700,000 euros in cash. He is still in prison.

Giorgi would also have accused two other MEPs who are not charged for now, the Italian Andrea Cozzolino, for whom he worked as an assistant and who is the current president of the Delegation for relations with the Maghreb, and the Belgian Marc Tarabella.

Also charged were Italian lobbyist Niccolo Figa-Talamanda, general secretary of the NGO No peace Without Justice, which shares its headquarters with Fight Impunity, and Luca Visentini, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). Figa-Talamanda was released, but forced to wear an electronic bracelet, and the trade unionist was released on parole.

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