The Greek woman Eva Kaili is at the center of the Qatargate affair – but now there is a second MEP who is being specifically accused of taking bribes from Qatar. Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella allegedly repeatedly accepted cash over a period of two years, in tranches of around EUR 20,000 each, packed in paper bags, for a total of around EUR 140,000. As it became known on Tuesday evening, this is what it says in a statement by former MEP Antonio Panzeri. The Italian is considered the mastermind behind the scandal and is now making himself available to the investigators as a key witness.
Marc Tarabella, a social democrat like Panzeri and Kaili, has long been associated with the affair. On December 10, the police searched his house. In the EU Parliament last autumn, he caused astonishment when he decided to award the World Cup Qatar defended after originally being noticed as a harsh critic of the event. The Belgian has repeatedly emphasized that he acted out of conviction and did not accept any money. His lawyer immediately contradicted Panzeri’s statements made by the newspapers Le Soir (Belgium) and Corriere della Sera (Italy) were published. It is a deliberate misstatement.
The mission: to only say good things about Qatar
As part of a large-scale lobbying campaign, Panzeri testified, he spoke to several MPs on behalf of Qatar and asked them to publicly take a stand on behalf of the country. He also offered Tarabella money for it, and the Belgian agreed. The two had known each other for years and felt connected through their passion for the football club Inter Milan. Panzeri claims that he handed over the money to Tarabella sometimes alone, sometimes together with his helper Francesco Giorgi. Giorgi worked in Parliament for the Social Democrats and lived with Eva Kaili. Like Panzeri, the two are in custody.
The big question now is whether Antonio Panzeri will name more names and whether he will also incriminate Eva Kaili, the now-defunct Vice President of Parliament. Panzeri’s testimony about Tarabella is dated December 10, but on Tuesday this week the Italian pledged to fully cooperate with prosecutors and tell the truth about everyone involved in the affair. Eva Kaili has so far claimed her advocacy for Qatar has nothing to do with the hundreds of thousands of euros in cash investigators found on her. It was all her partner’s fault.
According to his lawyer, Antonio Panzeri is “devastated” and wants “out of the tunnel” that his arrest has gotten him into. That’s why he wants to make a clean sweep as a key witness. According to Italian media reports, the deal with the public prosecutor’s office could mean that he is sentenced for forming a criminal organization, money laundering and bribery, but only has to go to prison for one year instead of ten years. Also, he would pay a fine of 80,000 euros and lose all the assets he accumulated from the crimes. It is estimated at one million euros. Panzeri’s wife and daughter, who also benefited from the money Panzeri received as a covert lobbyist for Qatar and Morocco, should go unpunished.
The article in Belgian criminal law that Panzeri claims corresponds roughly to the German leniency program and is named after the Italian model: “Pentiti”, remorseful mafiosi, are rewarded with reduced sentences if they testify against other perpetrators before the main proceedings are opened. The article has only been used once in Belgium. It was about uncovering a corruption scandal in football that became known in 2018. A player’s agent named Dejan Veljkovic was the beneficiary at the time.