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The cash-for-influence scandal in Qatar expands to include more EU legislators.

An international arrest order reveals that Belgium has expanded its investigation into suspected corruption and influence-buying by Qatar and Morocco in the European Parliament.

According to the arrest warrant for Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino, who was detained last week on allegations of corruption, money laundering, and involvement in a criminal organization, Maria Arena and Alessandra Moretti are connected to the investigation being conducted by Belgian prosecutors. The warrant was issued by Belgian investigating judge Michel Claise on February 10.

According to the documentation, Arena and Moretti, together with Cozzolino and Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella, who was also arrested last week, were members of a "quadrumvirate." According to the warrant, the quartet carried out the orders of former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, the suspected ringleader of the network functioning in the European Parliament who has reached a plea agreement with Belgian prosecutors.

The influence-buying scandal has shaken the EU capital since Belgian officials searched residences and offices in December 2022, amidst suspicions that Qatar and Morocco provided cash and gifts in exchange for favorable treatment in the European Parliament. In the months following the scandal, the institution's leaders engaged in soul-searching in an effort to disassociate themselves from individuals implicated and implement reforms.

The scandal has shed light on the inner workings of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) – the political party to which the implicated MEPs belonged. The S&D omitted Tarabella, Cozzolino, and former vice president of the European Parliament Eva Kaili from its January anti-corruption and transparency plan.

The warrant gives information on the alleged corrupt network's penetration of the European Parliament.

In one instance described in the warrant, Arena and Moretti were said to have followed Panzeri's directions during a late 2021 discussion over a prospective resolution of the Parliament on Qatar. Panzeri, who was no longer a member of the European Parliament and did not attend the meeting, conveyed instructions to his former assistant in an effort to influence the potential outcome.

According to the warrant, the plan and identity of the members of the so-called quadrumvirate were revealed in text messages sent to Panzeri by his former assistant Giuseppe Meroni, who was still employed by the S&D organization at the time. Last month, Panzeri reached a plea agreement with Belgian prosecutors in exchange for information and a reduced sentence.

According to the warrant, Meroni texted his former boss Panzeri, "Qatar resolved." After the meeting, both Arena and Francesco Giorgi, another of Panzeri's former assistants who was now working for Cozzolino, briefed him on what had transpired. Giorgi is the incarcerated partner of Kaili, the former vice president of the European Parliament.

In a request for comment, Meroni stated, "I can only say that it was a lawful exchange of information, as part of regular parliamentary political activity."

Moretti, according to the warrant, disputed the claims. "I have never followed Mr Panzeri instructions in my political activity, no resolution has been discussed on December 2021."

In contrast to the cases of Cozzolino and Tarabella, authorities have not requested the European Parliament to revoke Arena and Moretti's legal immunity, which is a prerequisite for investigating or prosecuting them. Arena declined to comment.

Arena has been scrutinized for her May 2022 trip to Doha, since she failed to disclose that the Qatari government paid for her airfare and accommodations. Arena resigned as chair of the Parliament's human rights subcommittee last month, a position she succeeded Panzeri in. Moretti, in the meantime, declared on the 17th of January, a sponsored trip to Qatar in February 2020.

The warrant also emphasizes the suspected role of Morocco in the influence-buying scheme.

The document suggests that Panzeri and Giorgi discussed furthering Moroccan interests by placing Cozzolino or Kaili on a special parliamentary committee examining the use of Pegasus spyware to hack the phones of journalists, activists, and politicians during an intercepted discussion. According to media sources, Morocco may have employed spyware to hack into the Spanish government.

Cozzolino and Kaili were both appointed as full committee members, however they have since lost their positions.

Cozzolino, who has denied wrongdoing on multiple occasions, declined to comment.

According to the warrant, Giorgi also prevented Parliament from issuing a text unfavorable to Morocco and informed Panzeri of this in May 2022.

The arrest warrant names two Moroccans deemed key to the allegedly corrupt network: spy Mohamed Belahrech, codenamed M118 and known to European intelligence services for some time, and Rabat's ambassador to Warsaw, Abderrahim Atmoun.

According to the warrant, Atmoun "played an important role" by distributing cash, and he is believed to have "closely" collaborated with Moroccan intelligence and liaised with Belahrech.

Atmoun and Belahrech did not respond to calls for comment on repeated occasions.

Morocco, according to the warrant, also attempted to influence the opinion of the European Parliament on the controversial subject of Western Sahara. The disputed territory is a former Spanish colony that Morocco and a rebel independence movement have claimed for decades.

Last year, Spain, which had long remained neutral in the ongoing conflict, reversed its attitude and began supporting Rabat's plan for Western Sahara's limited autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. After one of the rebel movement's leaders was permitted to fly to a Spanish hospital for treatment, tensions between Madrid and Rabat grew during the previous year.

The Belgian arrest warrant states that in March 2022, at the request of Atmoun and Panzeri, Cozzolino issued a statement supporting Spain's shift in attitude on Western Sahara.



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