July 23, 2024
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Belgium will not charge Moroccan suspects in Qatargate probe

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Belgium will not charge the Moroccan suspects linked to the European parliament’s Qatargate corruption scandal, marking the latest setback for the drawn-out investigation.

Belgian authorities earlier this year informed Morocco that two of the north African country’s citizens were suspected of bribing EU lawmakersbut the federal prosecutor’s office in Brussels said on Sunday it would not pursue them, leaving any further action against the Moroccans in the hands of authorities in their home country. The information was first reported by Belgian newspaper Le Soir.

Belgium’s probe into EU lawmakers suspected of receiving bribes from Qatar and Morocco, which began in 2022, was seen as one of the biggest to hit the European parliament but has faced difficulties after investigators faced accusations of conflicts of interest and a judicial review.

Belgium, in April, issued an order informing Moroccan authorities that they suspected the individuals of corruption, money laundering and participating in a criminal organisation.

One of the suspects is Abderrahim Atmoun, a Moroccan diplomat who allegedly bribed former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, according to leaked security service reports that triggered the investigation. According to Belgian media reports, Atmoun was questioned in Morocco in December last year.

The Moroccan embassy in Brussels did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Morocco’s government has previously denied any wrongdoing in the case.

However Panzeri, the major suspect in the case, has admitted taking at least €2mn in bribes from Qatar and Morocco in exchange for political favours and friendly EU resolutions towards both countries.

The prosecutor’s office said a decision had not yet been made on whether to charge Qatari suspects in the case. It is unclear how many people this would concern. The Qatari government has denied bribing European lawmakers and their associates.

Brussels police raided a series of offices in the European parliament in December 2022, seizing €1.5mn in cash and arresting Panzeri and several sitting MEPs. Those held included Eva Kaili, a Greek MEP who had previously served as vice-president of the parliament, and Francesco Giorgi, her partner, who was not an MEP but had formerly been Panzeri’s assistant.

Kaili denies any wrongdoing, while Giorgi has admitted involvement in the case, reportedly confessing that he was part of an organisation used by Qatar and Morocco to influence EU policy.

The suspects were accused of corruption, money laundering and participation in an organised criminal group, but no one has so far been formally charged, while a judicial review is delaying a potential trial.

Kaili and several other suspects triggered the judicial review over concerns of the legality of using some of the evidence. Its outcome is still pending.

The investigating judge in charge of the case, Aurélie Dejaiffe, was suspended in March after one of the suspects asked for her to be removed. Another judge has taken over temporarily until a decision is made on her status.

That was not the first time the lead investigator in the case, who is in charge of ordering wiretaps and arrests, was replaced: Dejaiffe took over the case from Michel Claise, who stepped down last year over claims of a conflict of interest after it became public that his son was in business with the son of a close associate of one of the suspects.

The prosecutor at the time said that Claise stepped down “as a matter of caution”, but said there was a lack of “effective elements” that would call into question the investigation.

The federal prosecutor in charge of the case, Raphaël Malagnini, also resigned in October last year to take up another job.

Police investigating the case also faced questions after Giorgi published a secret recording of a conversation with a senior police officer involved in the case, who visited him at home last year and complained that prosecutors and judges in Belgium served a political agenda.

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