MEPs, assistants arrested over corruption in Brussels – Investigation underway

Sarhan Basem
EURANET Citizens Corner

Brussels, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) -Exclusive article translated from lesoir.be – Four arrests and 16 searches were carried out this Friday in Brussels as part of a vast anti-corruption investigation carried out by the federal prosecutor’s office. A former MEP and the head of the International Trade Union Confederation have been deprived of their freedom, suspected of having received favors from Qatar. Revelations of “Soir” and “Knack”.

Belgian justice launched a wave of searches on the morning of Friday December 9, following an investigation opened in mid-July 2022 into an alleged criminal organization, infiltrated into the heart of the European Parliament and suspected of interference in the politics of the union and corruption by Qatar, reveal Le Soir and Knack . Two public figures, including a former Italian MEP from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, have just been arrested.

This potentially explosive case, breaking out in the middle of the Football World Cup, resulted this Friday in the first searches and arrests in Brussels, as confirmed by the federal prosecutor’s office: “The federal judicial police carried out 16 searches (at 14 different addresses) in several Brussels municipalities. In particular in Ixelles, Schaerbeek, Crainhem, Forest and Brussels-City. These searches were carried out as part of a broad investigation for alleged acts of criminal organization, corruption and money laundering. »

Money and gifts

The ultra-sensitive investigation, coordinated by the federal prosecutor’s office, is being investigated by Judge Michel Claise, who specializes in financial matters. The investigative duties have been carried out with the utmost discretion for more than four months by the Central Office for the Suppression of Corruption (OCRC).

Anti-corruption investigators “suspect a Gulf country of trying to influence the economic and political decisions of the European Parliament”, advances the federal prosecutor’s office in its response to our two media. How ? By “paying substantial sums of money or offering significant gifts to third parties having a significant political and/or strategic position within the European Parliament. The prosecution does not mention Qatar. But several well-informed sources told Le Soir and Knack that it was indeed the host state of the World Cup.

According to our information, the former S&D MEP, the Italian Pier-Antonio Panzeri, the newly elected Secretary General of the International Trade Union Confederation (Ituc) Luca Visentini, as well as an NGO director and a European parliamentary assistant , were all four arrested in the morning. They are presumed innocent.

The federal prosecutor’s office also confirms to us “the arrest for hearing” – in the Salduz 4 procedure, that is to say as suspects and in the presence of a lawyer – of four individuals “born in 1955, 1969, 1971 and 1987”. They could be presented before the judge within 48 hours, who would then decide on any arrest warrants.

All these suspects have Italian nationality or origin. In public, they are very active in pro-human rights associations and NGOs. Mr. Panzeri is also the president of Fight impunity , an ASBL promoting “the fight against impunity for serious human rights violations” and international justice. According to our information, the headquarters of Fight Impunity located in the heart of Brussels (rue Ducale) was searched this morning.

Well stocked safe

The searches this morning allowed the officers led by Judge Claise to get their hands on more than half a million euros in cash. According to information from Le Soir and Knack , these approximately 600,000 euros in cash were discovered in the Brussels residence of the former MEP.

Luca Visentini was elected Secretary General of Ituc in November. A confederation of trade unions from all over the world, including Belgian organizations, representing in total more than 200 million workers.

For Qatar, it would be a question of defending “its” much decried Football World Cup, and the supposed progress of the emirate on human rights or the working conditions of migrants.

Parliamentary assistants targeted

Proof of the sensitivity of the file, “this operation was aimed in particular at European parliamentary assistants”, concludes the federal prosecutor’s office in response to our questions. At home, it is mainly computer equipment and telephones that were seized by the investigators. “These elements will be analyzed as part of the investigations. »

Among the persons concerned by the searches, Le Soir and Knack identify four parliamentary assistants close to the S&D group (including the one who was deprived of their freedom), one of these assistants is also linked to the EPP group (right). Investigators again “visited” the homes of two advisers and a European Parliament official. Not to mention the directors of pressure groups active in the EU.

In response to our requests, the press service of the European Parliament declares “not to comment on the legal proceedings in progress”: “As always, the European Parliament cooperates fully with the competent national authorities. Same in this specific case,” he says.

Brussels is teeming with both spies and lobbyists, due to the presence of NATO and European institutions. However, the investigations are trying to determine whether the actors in the case did not go well beyond simple lobbying. There is talk of alleged corruption within Europe’s only directly elected body. By a foreign state, regularly accused since the awarding of the World Cup of violating the human rights of political opponents, LGBTQ + people and the 2 million migrant workers who populate the gas emirate.

The dozens of police officers and magistrates involved in the operation celebrated, in their own way, the international anti-corruption day.

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Sarhan Basem is Brussels Morning's Senior Correspondent to the European Parliament. With a Bachelor's degree in English Literature, Sarhan brings a unique blend of linguistic finesse and analytical prowess to his reporting. Specializing in foreign affairs, human rights, civil liberties, and security issues, he delves deep into the intricacies of global politics to provide insightful commentary and in-depth coverage. Beyond the world of journalism, Sarhan is an avid traveler, exploring new cultures and cuisines, and enjoys unwinding with a good book or indulging in outdoor adventures whenever possible.