In what is now dubbed the "Qatargate annual reports," a massive leak of documents from a police investigation exposes the extent of a major corruption scandal within the European Parliament, considered one of the most significant in EU history.
The scandal involves former Member of the European Parliament Pier Antonio Panzeri and his aide Francesco Giorgi, who are suspected of meticulously recording attempts to manipulate the Parliament and broader policy debates over a four-year period. The files reveal that Qatar, Morocco, and Mauritania allegedly spent around €4 million for these influence efforts.
The scandal, which first surfaced a year ago, resulted in the arrest of key figures, including Panzeri and Giorgi, in a series of raids featuring cash-filled bags and stories of foreign interference within the heart of EU democracy. The leaked documents shed light on actions that impacted the EU significantly, such as efforts to thwart parliamentary resolutions condemning Qatar's human rights record and initiatives to secure a visa-free travel deal between Qatar and the EU. The documents also include seemingly trivial operations, like the meticulous destruction of unflattering books on Qatar found within the Parliament.
At the center of the revelations is an eight-tab spreadsheet on Giorgi's laptop, listing over 300 alleged influence activities carried out between 2018 and 2022. The suspects reportedly operated through a network of associates referred to as their "soldiers." The ongoing investigation has led to the arrest of four current and former MEPs on charges including corruption, money laundering, and membership in a criminal organization.
While investigators believe Panzeri and his network manipulated the Parliament on behalf of various states, the documents suggest they also sought to exploit the lack of foreign officials' knowledge about EU democracy. Giorgi admitted to occasionally misleading paymasters about operations beyond their practical influence, taking advantage of Panzeri's misrepresented power to shape parliamentary work.
The leaked spreadsheet, viewed as either proof of influence activities or a tool to boost Panzeri's image, offers a unique glimpse into the workings of the alleged influence machine. The revelations, coming on the one-year anniversary of the scandal, reignite debates about the EU's ethical standards. The operations detailed in the "Qatargate Files" encompass various areas, including influencing the Qatar-EU visa deal, manipulating parliamentary hearings, and launching political attacks on Qatar's rivals, such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Concerns over the effectiveness of the Parliament's response to the scandal persist, with critics viewing introduced reforms as inadequate. Transparency International EU's Nick Aiossa highlights the sustained, multiannual effort to nefariously influence parliamentary procedures and questions what else might be hidden. German Greens MEP Daniel Freund calls for a proper internal inquiry within the Parliament to assess the impact of alleged influence operations on democratic activities and decisions.
The Parliament's spokesperson emphasizes cooperation with competent authorities and Parliament President Roberta Metsola's unprecedented involvement in facilitating the investigation. Metsola presented 14 measures to reinforce the Parliament's firewalls and improve transparency. The Parliament has joined the Belgian legal case as a civil plaintiff to detect any damage to the EP budget and recover the money.
Amid denials from involved states and figures, the Qatargate Files raise significant ethical and procedural concerns within the EU, urging a closer examination of the Parliament's vulnerabilities to such influence operations.
By fLEXI tEAM