Italy launches money laundering investigation into Qatargate employees
Italian prosecutors have launched a money-laundering investigation into the European Parliament’s ‘Qatargate’ affair as a new front opens in the biggest scandal to plague the EU institutions in decades.
Milan prosecutors are investigating two unnamed suspects linked to Pier Antonio Panzeri, the self-proclaimed kingpin at the heart of the European Parliament corruption scandal.
While Belgian authorities have indicted Panzeri in a case involving payments from Qatar and Morocco, the new probe is the first time Italian authorities have launched a related probe into what is widely considered the biggest EU scandal since corruption allegations helped bringing down European Commission President Jacques Santer in the 1990s.
The two suspects, identified in Italy, had been shareholders in a consulting firm set up by Panzeri’s accountant to allegedly hide bribes he had received from foreign governments.
Italian prosecutors believe the two men fronted Panzeri and his former assistant Francesco Giorgi as shareholders in the company between 2019 and 2021.
After their arrest in Brussels in December, both Giorgi and Panzeri were charged with corruption, money laundering and involvement in a criminal organization. Both cooperate with investigators. Panzeri is currently in custody while Giorgi has been released with an electronic tag.
The Belgian police confiscated more than 1.5 million euros in cash from the two men and in a suitcase that Giorgi’s partner Eva Kaili, herself an MEP, wanted to get rid of with the help of her father.
Panzeri told Belgian prosecutors he received a total of €2.6 million from Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania in exchange for his lobbying work over a four-year period starting in 2018, according to a person close to the investigation.
Monica Rossana Bellini, Panzeri’s accountant, co-founded Milan-based Equality Consultancy Srl in 2018 with Giorgi’s father Luciano and brother Stefano. Giorgi’s two family members left the company a year later and are not currently under investigation in Italy.
Equality Consultancy was registered at the same address as Bellini’s own tax consultancy in the town of Opera, south of Milan.
Bellini’s lawyer in Milan did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She has previously denied any wrongdoing.
When the company was founded in December 2018, Panzeri was still a member of the European Parliament. The company went into liquidation at the end of 2020 and shut down in 2021.
Panzeri’s daughter, Silvia, and his wife, Maria Dolores Colleoni, were briefly arrested in Italy in December and Belgian authorities attempted to hand them over for prosecution. But when Panzeri struck a plea deal in January, those transfer requests were dropped.
Bellini, who was arrested the following day after Panzeri’s deal with prosecutors and released last month, is awaiting a decision this week on her transfer to Belgium.
https://www.ft.com/content/20731fa0-3690-4831-8187-04010f55cb26 Italy launches money laundering investigation into Qatargate employees