In December 2022, an EU corruption scandal dubbed “Qatargate” exploded as the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office revealed it “suspected that third parties in political and/or strategic positions within the European Parliament were paid large sums of money or offered substantial gifts to influence Parliament’s decisions” in a statement.
In summarising what we know so far, this new network map reveals the depth and extent of this elaborate corruption and money laundering scheme within the walls of the EU.
What does this network map tell us?
With a closer look into the tangled web, these key points stand out about the scheme:
- It used several family relationships
- It relied on deep professional networks within European institutions
- Two NGOs are involved so far
- We have the start of a money trail
Regarding family relationships, the network map shows the scheme was built on several family connections. Eva Kaili is involved alongside her former assistant/partner Francesco Giorgi. Upon the arrest of Giorgi, Kaili instructed her father Alexandros Kailis to collect a suitcase full of cash from her home and dispose of it. He was subsequently caught red handed with the cash in a Brussels hotel. Next, we have the involvement of Francesco Giorgi’s father and brother as the founders of the Milan based consultancy firm ‘Equality Consultancy’. The firm is now under investigation by Italian authorities for possible involvement in money laundering the Qatargate funds. On top of this, we see a connection between (former MEP) Pier Antonio Panzeri and his wife, Maria Dolores Colleoni, and daughter, Silvia Panzeri in several capacities.
Regarding professional networks, throughout the network map we see repeated crossovers and involvement of Parliamentary assistants, committee colleagues, and professional contacts. Francesco Giorgi served as an assistant to Kaili, Panzeri and then Andrea Cozzolino at the time of his arrest. Panzeri is linked to his accountant Monica Bellini (co-founder of Equality Consultancy). Panzeri is also linked to Federica Mogherini through Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs. He is also linked to Maria Arena as her predecessor as Chair of Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI). One of Panzeri’s former assistants is now Advisor to Socialist MEPs on DROI. Finally, several actors belonged to the same political group, the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democratics (S&D) including Kaili, Panzeri, Tarabella, Cozzolino, Moretti, Arena and Bittarelli.
Regarding NGOs, two have been linked so far. Fight Impunity was co-founded by Panzeri, Giorgi and Gianfranco Dell’Alba in 2019. Dell’Alba happens to be the former chief of staff of Emma Bonino, the former Italian Foreign Minister. Among several high-profile European figures, until recently, Bonino sat on the board of Fight Impunity and founded the second NGO involved, No Peace without Justice. So far, the role of these NGOs beyond serving as a meeting place for the actors involved is unclear, however this may become clearer as current investigations progress.
Finally, regarding the money trail, there’s a long road ahead until a complete paper trail can be established and an accurate estimate of the money involved can be given. Yet, around €1.5 million have been seized by investigators so far. This includes around €600,000 found in Panzeri’s home, €150,000 in Kaili and Giorgi’s apartment, and €150,00 in a suitcase Kaili’s father was caught carrying out of a Brussels hotel.
So why ‘Qatargate’ and not ‘Eurogate’?
The origin of the scandal’s name is unclear, but the sole focus on Qatar begs reflection. Evidently, the name echoes back to Qatar’s heavily suspected involvement, but fails to make any reference to Morocco’s suspected involvement.
Yet, why has this scandal not been referred to as “Eurogate”? In light of the extensive network built within the walls of the institution, the title of the scandal seems to entirely point fingers and responsibility at a foreign country and away from the EU itself. Was this deliberate?
In any case, if the EU’s political integrity and role as a corruption fighting body is to recover, this must start with recognising the problem and taking ownership of the mistakes committed. Moving forward, Qatar and Morocco’s possible involvement need to be understood but the focus must be on the internal failings of the EU to prevent such a corruption and money laundering network from thriving.
In the end, would we be here if the first person who had been offered Qatari or Moroccan money had firmly turned it down and reported it instead of building an entire network around it? Food for thought…
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Raballand, L. (2023) Father, Son and the House of Panzeri: A network map of ‘Eurogate’ corruption, IDRN, 06 April. Available at: https://idrn.eu/father-son-and-the-house-of-panzeri-a-network-map-of-eurogate-corruption/ [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].