PANZERI AND THOSE FRIENDS FROM THE OTHER SIDE
The investigations into the Qatargate scandal never cease to provide surprises. This time, shaking the chambers of the European Parliament, is a new strand of investigation that reveals the involvement of the United Arab Emirates in the Panzeri case, a former Italian MEP arrested in December last year on charges of being the figurehead of a vast corruption network, in which other individuals were also entangled, including Eva Kaïlí (a Greek politician and member of the European Parliament), her companion Francesco Giorgi and Niccolò Figà-Talamanca, secretary general of the NGO ‘No Peace Without Justice’ (later released unconditionally). Antonio Panzeri is now serving the investigators as a ‘repentant’ and his revelations are opening up interesting scenarios.
As time goes by, it is becoming more and more evident that the revelations of illicit payments by Qatar have come at the same time as the atrocious World Cup publicity stunt, and are the product of the intelligence work of those in the Persian Gulf who are fighting Qatar by all means: the alliance between the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Israel, which sees in the Doha monarchy dangerous allies of Turkey and Iran, and the Palestinians who are currently being crushed by the vicious and genocidal policy pursued by the new government of Bibi Netanyahu. The positive fact is that, at last, there is talk of corruption in Brussels, which is a very serious matter, and the Pandora’s box of intolerable interference by foreign powers in the administration of the European Union has been uncovered – whether they come from the East, the West or the South, always dangerous and certainly seriously damaging.
The latest twist, however, came about almost by chance: among the photographs taken during the seizure of the money used to bribe Panzeri, circulated by the Belgian federal police, an envelope with the logo of the Emirates Red Crescent (the Red Cross of the Persian Gulf States) turned up: as we had widely predicted, it turns out that Qatar, in the context of political pressure on the European Union, plays an important and dangerous role, but not nearly as important as that played by Qatar’s arch-enemies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Confessions: money from the Emirates, Morocco, Mauritania
Francesco Giorgi, Eva Kaïlí, Niccolò Figà-Talamanca and Pier Antonio Panzeri, the four main actors in Qatargate
Pier Antonio Panzeri, on 17 January 2023, in exchange for a reduced sentence (the charges are money laundering, bribery and participation in a criminal organisation) decided to confess, signing a memorandum deposited with Belgian officials, in which he admitted his role and began to provide new names, figures, dates, and functions of the corruption scheme in which he was involved. Other nations, besides Qatar, have allegedly generously transferred rivers of money to promote their strategic goals within the European Parliament.
Everything is done through intermediaries using mostly non-profit organisations such as the Middle East Dialogue Center, founded in 2018 by two lawyers from the Qatari embassy in Brussels, or the Global Network for Rights and Development, a Norwegian NGO funded by a company from the United Arab Emirates. Panzeri, for his part, uses the NGO Fight Impunitiy as a front: founded by him in 2019, it has never registered for transparency, a compulsory act for receiving any funding. Francesco Giorgi, on the other hand, uses the company Equality Consultancy, set up in 2018 by Francesco’s father and brother, only to be taken over by the Milanese accountant Monica Rossana Bellini, who is also under arrest: the company uses one of its twins in Estonia to evade controls on the passage of money from Qatar.
Among the states involved is Morocco, with its foreign secret services, the DGED Direction Générale des Estudes et de la Documentation; two DGED agents are mentioned in the Belgian court documents, and Éva Kaïlí’s companion, Francesco Giorgi, admits to ‘having been part of an organisation used by Morocco with the aim of interfering in European affairs’. He is forced to admit it, because the Belgians have in their hands documents provided by the hacker Chris Coleman, who copied emails, contracts, transfers – everything: according to the investigation, Antonio Panzeri was chosen by Morocco at least 11 years earlier to defend Rabat’s interests in the European Parliament.
Also involved in the scandal is the Moroccan ambassador to Poland, Abderrahim Atmoun, who pays money into the account of Panzeri’s wife, who was also arrested, together with his daughter. His involvement provoked an angry reaction from an extreme right-wing Polish parliamentarian, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, who, in order to avoid the extension of the investigation to the role played by his country’s diplomacy in the Brussels bribery system, raised accusations against Panzeri, Giorgi and Kaili. After all, since 1989, Poland has had steely ties with Abu Dhabi, not only financially, but also commercially, militarily and diplomatically, as evidenced by the important work carried out by the Warsaw government’s political appointee in Dubai, the lobbyist Mariusz Kaźmierski.
The Belgian magistrates, fortunately, do not give anyone a pass (so far), and continue undaunted in their analysis of the evidence seized from the Italian lobbyists: the investigations also include the government of Mauritania, which allegedly gave Francesco Giorgi, Panzeri’s parliamentary assistant at the time, 25,000 euros in cash, and for a long period paid his rent (1800 euros per month) and the expenses for his flat in Brussels.
A galley photo
Pictures released by the Belgian police of the money and files seized from Antonio Panzeri: in the top left-hand corner, an envelope bears the Emirates Red Crescent logo
After Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania, now the involvement of the Emirates comes up. In some of the photos of the suitcases found in Panzeri’s lodgings, taken by the Belgian Federal Police and circulated by the newspaper Le Soir, an envelope containing documents or perhaps money can be seen bearing the logo of the Emirates Red Crescent, a volunteer humanitarian organisation representing the UAE’s main relief and aid agency.
On 8 January 2019, the Federal National Council of the United Arab Emirates (FNC) is organising a three-day expo inside the Parliament: an event with the evocative name, ‘Humanitarian aid for stability’, to praise an organisation with which, according to Fahad Abdelrahman Bin Sultan (Deputy Secretary General for International Aid at the Emirates Red Crescent), the UAE has reportedly committed as much as $32.01 billion between 2013 and 2017 in humanitarian aid and development activities, and which has benefited millions of people around the world, including 10 million Yemenis.
Bin Sultan is also a politician, and is the head of Suqia, which is the Emirati state agency for drinking water and the strategic use of water and electricity in diplomatic negotiations – especially in the Saharan and Sahel countries. The event he organised appears to be a marvellous showcase for a human, tolerant and charitable face of the Emirates, which thus conceal the war crimes committed in Yemen or the humanitarian crimes committed daily within their own borders: not even the public present is allowed to intervene or comment in any way.
Also present at the opening were Amal Al Qubaisi, President of the FNC (the Federal Government of the Emirates), several members of the European Parliament and several ambassadors. The event was presided over by the then President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, who expressed great appreciation for the activities of the Emirate Red Crescent, describing them as “impressive”; the initiative for the exhibition came from Antonio López-Istúriz White, Secretary General of the European People’s Party and MEP who chairs the “United Arab Emirates-European Union Parliamentary Friendship Group”, a think-tank formed by members of Parliament and the European Commission, notoriously at the centre of lobbying activities.
According to a 200-page dossier submitted by Niccolò Figa-Talamanca, Panzeri, like Antonio López-Istúriz White, is also paid by the Emirates. The latter is considered one of Europe’s most committed far-right parliamentarians, and is linked not only to former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, but also to several far-right groups in the US Republican Party, such as the Republican Study Committee and Senator John McCain’s International Republican Institute.
Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski accuses Eva Kaïlí of being on the Russian payroll
Poland is playing an important role in this scandal. A new twist: the Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski of the Law and Justice party, through the TV channel Telewizja Republika, is making heavy accusations against the former Vice-President of the European Parliament Éva Kaïlí: ‘she was allegedly under surveillance by the intelligence services of two EU Member States and the Belgian police, not because of her relations with Qatar, but because of her relations with Russia’. An infamous accusation that Kaïlí not only denied, but to which she reacted with a defamation complaint.
The accusation makes a lot of noise, not least because there have long been suspicions about Russia’s attempts at political interference not only with the United States, but also with the right wing of the European Union. The affair fits into the groove of the bad relations between Warsaw and Brussels in this historical phase. But also backing up Saryusz-Wolski’s statements is Polish MEP Dominik Tarczyński who, on the TV channel TVP Info, speaks of Éva Kaïlí’s links with the Russian-Greek oligarch Ivan Savvidis; Tarczyński adds ‘Savvidis is one of Putin’s men, one of the first to be sanctioned. His property was seized. He is also a friend of Mrs Kaïlí’. Another accusation dryly denied by the Greek MEP.
The President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola, two days after the scandal broke out, opened the plenary session with these words: ‘The European Parliament is under attack. European democracy is under attack. Our way of open, free and democratic societies is under attack […] These malign actors, linked to autocratic third countries, have allegedly used NGOs, trade unions, individuals, assistants and MEPs as weapons in an attempt to subjugate us’: a fair and decisive stance, but one important detail is missing – we are not only attacked by an external enemy, but we also have a mechanism that feeds corruption through inefficiencies all within.
On Qatargate a game is being played between Qatar and the Emirates, a game between the anti-European right and advocates of federalism, another game between Brussels and Warsaw, and individual parliamentarians settle some old personal scores. The result is that the credibility of the European institutions is at the lowest point in their history, and that nothing is being done in a decisive sense – as at the time of the Mani Pulite investigation, which swept away a political class but did not even manage to make the slightest dent in the system of corruption. One thing is certain: we are only at the beginning.