Italy launches money-laundering probe into ‘Qatargate’ associates

Italian prosecutors have opened a money-laundering investigation related to the European parliament ‘Qatargate’ affair, as a new front opens up in the biggest scandal to hit EU institutions for decades.

Milan’s prosecutor’s office is probing two unnamed suspects connected to Pier Antonio Panzeri, the self-styled kingpin at the heart of the corruption scandal surrounding the European parliament.

While Belgian authorities have charged Panzeri in a case involving payments from Qatar and Morocco, the new probe is the first time Italian authorities have opened a related investigation in what is widely seen as the EU’s biggest scandal since corruption allegations helped bring down European Commission president Jacques Santer in the 1990s.

The two suspects investigated in Italy had been shareholders in a consultancy set up by Panzeri’s accountant to allegedly hide the bribes he received from foreign governments.

Italian prosecutors believe the two men acted as fronts for Panzeri and his former assistant, Francesco Giorgi, as shareholders in the company between 2019 and 2021.

After being arrested in Brussels in December, both Giorgi and Panzeri have been charged with corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal group. They are both co-operating with investigators. Panzeri is currently in detention while Giorgi has been set free with an electronic tag.

Belgian police seized more than €1.5mn in cash at the homes of the two men and in a suitcase that Giorgi’s partner, Eva Kaili, herself an EU lawmaker, had sought to get rid of with the help of her father.

Panzeri told Belgian prosecutors he received a total of €2.6mn from Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania in exchange for his lobbying efforts over the course of four years from 2018, according to one person close to the investigation.

Monica Rossana Bellini, Panzeri’s accountant, in 2018 set up the Milan-based Equality Consultancy Srl together with Giorgi’s father Luciano and brother Stefano in 2018. The two Giorgi family members left the company a year later and are currently not under investigation in Italy.

Equality Consultancy was registered at the same address as Bellini’s own tax consultancy in the town of Opera, south of Milan.

Bellini’s lawyer in Milan did not immediately reply to a request for comment. She has previously denied any wrongdoing.

When the company was set up in December 2018, Panzeri was still a member of the European parliament. The company was placed into liquidation at the end of 2020 and shut down in 2021.

Panzeri’s daughter Silvia and his wife Maria Dolores Colleoni were briefly arrested in Italy in December and the Belgian authorities sought to have both transferred for prosecution. But once Panzeri struck a plea deal in January, those transfer requests were dropped.

Bellini, who was arrested the following day after Panzeri’s deal with prosecutors and released last month, is awaiting a decision this week on her transfer to Belgium.

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