The scope of the bribery scandal at the EU Parliament keeps widening. On February 16th, two more MEP names were released as part of the same warrant issued for Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino, who was arrested last week by Belgian police as part of the Qatargate investigation.
Belgian Maria Arena and her Italian colleague Alessandra Moretti, both MEPs from the S&D group, join Andrea Cozzolino as suspects of corruption and money laundering. The Qatargate investigation focuses on the bribing of MEPs as part of an extensive influence operation by the Qatari and Moroccan governments to whitewash their human rights records.
Authorities accuse all three of contributing to a wider corruption network under the leadership of former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, the Italian ex-MEP accused of using various NGOs to launder money, money that had been paid by foreign governments for him to facilitate the suppression of human rights abuses in Qatar and Morocco.
According to the warrant, both Arena and Moretti are alleged to have influenced a parliamentary resolution on Qatar in 2021, under the orders of Panzeri. The MEPs were also named in communications between Panzeri and his personal secretary.
The MEPs have denied any links to the scandal or charges of corruption, and Belgian police have, so far, not asked EU officials to remove their parliamentary immunity—a necessary step for prosecution. Both MEPs have previously been scrutinised for junkets to Qatar paid for by the Qatari government. Arena, in fact, resigned from her position on the Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights last month due to a failure to declare the trip.
In the Italian press, Moretti defended her actions, stating she is not guilty of any corruption but merely failed to declare trips to Qatar at the time.
The Qatargate investigation has been ongoing since July 2022 and expanded after Panzeri—regarded as the ringleader of the network—signed a plea deal with Belgian authorities last month to implicate more EU officials.
Morocco, also mentioned in the warrant, has recently been embroiled in the scandal as attempting to whitewash its expansionist policies in Western Sahara.
The warrant described how Panzeri discussed placing high-ranking parliamentarians Eva Kali or Andrea Cozzolino on a committee investigating the use of the Pegasus spyware possibly by the Moroccan government. Furthermore, the warrant names Moroccan diplomat Abderrahim Atmoun as distributing funds to officials.
This week, Parliament Roberta Metsola presented new regulations that would increase the transparency of Parliament. Under the new proposals, MEPs are to be barred from lobbying in Brussels and Strasbourg for six months after leaving Parliament; amnesty is to be granted to officials who ‘forgot’ to declare gifts and junkets.
So far, four EU officials have been arrested, including vice-president of the Parliament Eva Kali and €1.5 million in cash has been seized as authorities examine influence operations by non-EU states.