First to resign were well-known board members. Pier Antonio Panzeri's nongovernmental group for human rights is currently dealing with the loss of a significant donor.
The Human Rights Foundation, the donor, is attempting to recoup some of the €600,000 it provided to the NGO managed by former MEP Panzeri, who is currently being held on corruption-related charges and has chosen to cooperate with the Belgian prosecutor, called Fight Impunity.
Given that the foundation was a significant donor to Fight Impunity, CEO and founder Thor Halvorssen wrote a message to his staff on January 14 outlining the nonprofit is stance and internal response. Additionally, the foundation donated €1 million to the No Peace Without Justice NGO, whose Secretary General Niccol Figà-Talamanca is currently being held in Belgium on preliminary criminal accusations related to the same corruption probe.
A human rights advocate and film producer from Venezuela named Halvorssen shared an internal memo from HRF.
"HRF's grants were made in good faith, with counter-signed grant agreements, holding them to conduct of the highest standard," he stated in the memo.
In a separate letter to his team, Halvorssen stated: "On December 16, 2022, we suspended our working partnerships with them pending the outcome of the legal investigation."
In the Belgian authorities' investigation into claims of corruption, money laundering, and membership in a criminal organization, Panzeri and Figà-Talamanca are among the accused.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that Panzeri and the prosecution in the case had made a specific arrangement under which he will incriminate others in return for a lighter sentence. There is no indication that the NGOs as a whole have violated any laws.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is making an effort to disassociate itself from Panzeri and Figà-Talamanca, joining a long list of prominent individuals who have already attempted to do the same.
After the allegations surfaced in December, prominent members of the EU political establishment—including former commissioners Dimitris Avramopoulos and Emma Bonino and the president of the College of Europe—resigned from their positions on the organization's honorary board.
According to Halvorssen's memo, one of the factors that led him to team up with Fight Impunity was the organization's honorary board's stellar reputation, which included, in Halvorssen's words, "a 'who is who' of the European human rights establishment."
In accordance with his memo, Panzeri's NGO and Halvorssen's collaboration began when the former MEP presented a screening of Halvorssen's film "The Dissident" in the European Parliament in late 2020.
In order to support the promotion of that movie, a documentary regarding the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives, HRF donated to Panzeri's organization. The movie charges Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, with planning and attempting to conceal Khashoggi's murder; bin Salman has maintained that Khashoggi was the victim of a rogue operation.
Three grants of €150,000 in 2020, €200,000 in 2021, and €250,000 in 2022 were given by HRF to Fight Impunity. It provided Fight Impunity with funding for general work opposing dictatorships, such as planning renowned conferences and publishing an academic journal, in addition to promoting "The Dissident."
A "significant portion" of these monies, according to Halvorssen's testimony to workers at Fight Impunity, are still in the NGO's bank account. In his letter, he stated, "We are told … that Fight Impunity will return our funds as soon as Belgian judicial authorities allow it."
Halvorssen stated that Fight Impunity gave HRF guarantees that its contributions were utilized "appropriately for the purposes for which they were granted," but he added that he has demanded a "full accounting" of how Panzeri's NGO used the money. When reached for comment, Panzeri's attorney did not respond.
In addition, the note states that HRF employed Silvia Panzeri as a document translator for €3,000 per month from July 2021 to December 2022. She is currently facing extradition from Italy to Belgium and has refuted a claim made in her arrest warrant by Belgian police that she was aware of her father's suspected illicit actions.
No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ), a human rights organization, received two €500,000 grants from HRF in 2021 and 2022.
In addition to being a far larger organization with a greater workforce than Fight Impunity, NPWJ has a significantly longer history. The Transnational Radical Party, a left-leaning Italian political movement, launched a campaign in the 1990s that served as the foundation for NPWJ.
Niccol Figà-Talamanca is the Secretary General of No Peace Without Justice. He resigned after the Qatargate charges surfaced. He is also imprisoned and is denying the charges against him. According to Figà-Talamanca's attorney, she was unable to respond to any inquiries.
Similar to Fight Impunity, HRF provided funding to No Peace Without Justice to support the global human rights work being done by NPWJ, especially with regard to the Justice for Jamal [Khashoggi] campaign and to promote the film "The Dissident" by Halvorssen.
The shared offices of No Peace Without Justice and Fight Impunity are located in Brussels.
No Peace Without Justice's spokeswoman said: "Out of respect for the work of the magistrates, the secrecy of the investigations and the principle of the presumption of innocence, we do not deem it appropriate to issue statements."
In December, the EU Commission announced that it has stopped sponsoring No Peace Without Justice.
By fLEXI tEAM