Under the terms of the deal, Panzeri will receive a reduced sentence with unspecified prison time. He will also have assets confiscated. The statement from Belgian prosecutors notes that this is only the second time in Belgian legal history that the “pentiti law” — a reference to Italian laws allowing investigation into the mafia — has been used.
News of Panzeri’s cooperation is the latest twist in a widening corruption probe that is already being called the most significant E.U. scandal in recent memory.
After multiple police raids in December, Panzeri and several others were charged on suspicion of money laundering, corruption and taking part in a criminal organization on behalf of an unnamed “Gulf State,” widely reported to be Qatar. Investigators were also looking at whether Panzeri had links to Morocco, according to Belgian media reports. Both countries deny involvement.
The other suspects include Eva Kaili, a Greek member of the European Parliament who was until last month one of the body’s 14 vice presidents, and her partner, parliamentary assistant Francesco Giorgi. Kaili’s lawyer said she maintains her innocence.
Although the details of the alleged fraud are still coming to light, Belgian police have confiscated more than 1.5 million euros ($1.59 million) in cash found in raided homes and at least one suitcase. Security services also sealed off access to European Parliament offices.
On Monday, the parliament began the process of lifting the immunity of two additional lawmakers, which could eventually allow them to be interviewed as part of the probe. The same day, an Italian court ruled that Panzeri’s daughter could be extradited to Belgium in connection with the case. His wife is awaiting the outcome of an appeal in her own extradition case.
The scandal — and its mafia-like details — has shaken the de facto capital of the European Union, raising questions about corruption and influence peddling and renewing calls for tougher ethics rules.
Top E.U. officials have promised changes. Roberta Metsola, president of the European Parliament, said Monday that she is working on a number of new ways to “improve accountability and checks,” including a revolving-door policy, more transparency on relationships with third countries, and training on whistleblowing and compliance.
“We owe this to our citizens, to all those who came before, and to all those who will come after us,” she said.
But the push is in its early stages — and is already facing criticism for being far too weak.
On Tuesday, some parliamentarians said Panzeri’s case underscored the need for real change — and braced for explosive “Qatargate” allegations to come.
“The fact that the justice system considers this deal useful confirms the seriousness of the accusations and that the European Parliament can no longer procrastinate on ending the culture of money,” tweeted Marc Botenga, a Belgian member of the Parliament.
“Everyone involved should be very nervous,” wrote German member Damian Boeselager. “They will be brought to justice!”