Ex-MEP at heart of cash for influence scandal strikes plea bargain

Pier Antonio Panzeri will provide information on corruption network for ‘limited’ jail time

The former MEP at the centre of a cash for influence scandal that has rocked the European parliament has reached a deal with prosecutors to provide information on the corruption network in exchange for a “limited” prison sentence.

In a statement, Belgium’s federal prosecutor announced that Pier Antonio Panzeri had signed a memorandum, where he pledged to make “revealing, truthful and complete statements” about the involvement of third parties and, “if applicable”, his own involvement in criminal offences.

Panzeri, an MEP from 2004–19, was one of four suspects charged with money laundering, corruption and participating in a criminal organisation last December, after police recovered nearly €1.5m (then £1.3m) in bags of cash at several locations across Brussels, including his home. He has been accused of taking money from the governments of Qatar and Morocco in an attempt to influence decisions in the parliament.

Panzeri was due to appear in court earlier on Tuesday to appeal against his pre-trial detention but pulled out for “personal reasons”, according to an earlier statement from the prosecutor.

According to the latest statement, he has pledged to inform investigators about how the fraud operated, including who was involved and the identity of people he admits to having bribed. In exchange, he will receive “a limited sentence”, which includes prison, a fine, and the confiscation of assets acquired through the fraud, estimated to be €1m, the statement said.

The deal – only the second of its kind in Belgian history – is a significant milestone in the case that could implicate others who gave and took bribes.

The other suspects are Panzeri’s former assistant Francesco Giorgi, and Giorgi’s partner, Greek MEP Eva Kaili, as well as Niccolò Figà-Talamanca, the head of an NGO.

Giorgi has been reported by Belgian and Italian media to have confessed and sought to exonerate his partner. His lawyer has declined to comment.

Kaili’s lawyers have rejected all charges of wrongdoing and Figà-Talamanca’s family have proclaimed his innocence.


Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

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