February 6, 2023

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FRANCE 24: These are the main suspects so far in the Qatargate scandal – who are they and what have they done

These are the main suspects in the scandal Qatargate Based on the latest data, in today’s latest edition of France 24.

Investigations into a corruption scandal engulfing the European Parliament and the European Union took a dramatic turn this week when Antonio Panzieri, one of the main suspects, said on Tuesday that You will cooperate with the Belgian authorities.

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France 24 writes that the new revelations are expected to speed up investigations and implicate other suspects, as they piece together key data of the main suspects in the complex case.

Panzi’s discoveries will also have an undeniable impact on three other main suspects in the case: Eva Cayley, her partner, Francesco Giorgi and Nicolo Vega Talamanca, Secretary General of the NGO “No Peace Without Justice”.

Along with Pancheri, the three have been held since their arrest on charges of crimes including participation in a criminal organisation, corruption and money laundering.

France 24 is looking into the key players investigated in the Qatargate scandal.

Pierre Antonio Bancheri/AP Photo

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Pier Antonio Panziri

After serving 15 years as a member of the European Parliament, Banesteri founded the human rights NGO Fighting Impunity in 2019, which – according to the Belgian investigation – allowed him to use contacts he made during his time as a politician to create a profile as a lobbyist working on behalf of Qatar.

After Pantziri’s arrest on 9 December, Belgian police discovered €600,000 in cash stored at his home in Brussels and €17,000 in his family home in Calusco d’Ada, Lombardy.

According to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on December 22, Panzeri and his family “also have significant assets, including joint bank accounts and real estate, which cannot be explained solely by the income of the MEP who served 10 years in office.”

Considered one of the main architects of the corruption scheme, Panziri’s decision this week to plead guilty and cooperate with the police is a major boost to the investigation. The Belgian newspaper Le Soir, which was the first to report on the Qatargate scandal, described him as “a human bomb for truth and justice.”

His cooperation also comes with personal benefits, including commuting his prison sentence to a “limited” one.

Eva Kylie
Eva Kylie / Photo AP

Eva Kylie

An initial search for her father, who has since been released, resulted in investigators catching him trying to flee with a briefcase filled with hundreds of thousands of euros. The fact that he was caught in the act resulted in his daughter losing her immunity as an MEP. A subsequent search of her flat in Brussels revealed bags full of €150,000 worth of banknotes.

Since then, Kylie has been accused of participating in a criminal organization, corruption and money laundering, and continues to be detained by the police.

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Since her arrest, Kylie has continually protested her innocence, with her attorney, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, saying she was “unaware of” the bags of money found in her apartment. Instead, she pointed the finger at her partner, Francesco Giorgi, accusing him of “betraying her trust”.

A few days after the 2022 World Cup kicked off in late November, Kylie spoke to the European Parliament to defend Qatar, the host country, who was targeted during the tournament for human rights abuses.

Francesco Giorgi
Francesco Giorgi / Facebook

Francesco Giorgi

Belgian newspapers described Francesco Giorgi as the “prime suspect” in the investigation, and he was held by police for five weeks. He is a parliamentary aide to the Italian deputy, Andrea Coccolino. Before that he was an associate of Panshiri who was also suspected.

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During the investigations, Giorgi allegedly accused two MEPs with whom he maintains relations of involvement in the corruption scandal: Marc Tarabella and Andrea Coccolino.

Nicolos Vega Talamanca
Nicolos Vega Talamanca/Twitter

Nicolo Vega Talamanca

Italian national Nicolò Vega Talamanca was also arrested on December 9 and held for five days before being released on parole. However, that decision has since been reversed, and as of December 27, Talamanca was in pretrial detention awaiting trial.

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Talamanca heads the NGO No Peace Without Justice, which was founded by Italian politician and former MEP Emma Bonino and focuses on issues of human rights and the rule of law. The organization is suspected of paying MEPs and also sharing offices with the NGO “Fight Impunity”, founded by Pancheri and Giorgi.

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Mark Trabella
Mark Tarabella/AP Photo

Mark Trabella

When police searched the home of Belgian MP Tarabella on December 10, no money was found, but his phone and laptop computer were seized.

On December 13, the Belgian Socialist Party suspended Trabella’s membership pending investigation, despite protesting his innocence. “I have nothing to be ashamed of and will be available at the request of justice,” he told the party’s oversight committee.

Less than a month later, on 2 January, the European Parliament initiated emergency procedures to revoke Tarabella’s parliamentary immunity, at the request of the Belgian authorities.

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According to the Belgian newspaper L’Echo, Pancheri claims he gave Tarabella more than €120,000 in cash in several installments as payment for helping him in Qatar-related matters — a claim that Tarabella denies.

However, the Belgian politician admitted that he took a trip paid for by Qatar in February 2020, which he did not authorize before the European Parliament.

In November, Tarabella spoke to the European Parliament about the “positive development” of human rights in Qatar.

Andrea Cozzolino
Andrea Cozzolino/Facebook

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Andrea Cocolino

It is also believed that the second member of the Italian parliament, Andrea Coccolino, was implicated in the scandal through his relationship with his parliamentary aide Francesco Giorgi.

Following his arrest, Giorgi Coccolino has been classified as a suspect, and while the MEP has yet to be charged, the European Parliament will decide in February whether his parliamentary immunity should be lifted in connection with the scandal.

Born in 1962, the Belgian press described him as “very close” to Bancheri, from whom he assumed the position of head of the delegation for relations with the countries of the Maghreb in 2019.

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Coccolino said he would like a private hearing by the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee “where he will confirm his complete innocence and answer all questions”.

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The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats of the European Parliament on 12 December suspended Cocolino from his role as coordinator, and four days later the Italian Democratic Party also suspended him as a “precautionary measure” to protect the party’s image until investigations into the Qatargate case were completed.

Luca Visentini
Luca Visentini/AP

Luca Visentini

Italian Luca Visentini, president of the International Trade Union Confederation, admitted on December 20 that he had received a cash sum of about 50,000 euros from the NGO Fight Impunity, which is led by Panziri.

Visentini maintains that the payment was not an attempt at corruption or an attempt by Qatar to buy influence. Instead, he said, he accepted the “cash gift” because of the “non-profit nature” and “quality of the donor.” Visentini added, “No one asked me for anything, and I did not ask for anything in return, and no conditions were placed on the donation.”

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He told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, “If I were corrupt or corrupt, my political opinion would be clearly in favor of Qatar, but I mentioned in the previous days that the reforms implemented in the country were not completely sufficient.” After being arrested and released by the police.

Visentini has since been suspended from his role in the ITUC and must inform the authorities if he plans to travel outside the European Union.

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