Spies, cash and luxury hotels: EU corruption probe explores Morocco links

Garrett Gardner
Spies, cash and luxury hotels: EU corruption probe explores Morocco links

Pier Antonio Panzeri and his loved ones envisioned to welcome the new yr in a 5-star resort in Marrakesh, allegedly paid for by the Moroccan authorities. In its place the previous Italian lawmaker, his wife and daughter, put in it less than arrest.

Panzeri has emerged as a central determine in the corruption probe that stunned the Brussels establishment in December when Belgian law enforcement raided the premises of the European parliament and seized a lot more than €1.5mn in dollars at Panzeri and two other suspects’ residences.

Qatar, prosecutors think, employed Panzeri and his community to increase its picture in Brussels ahead of the Fifa World Cup. But the 67-12 months-previous Italian was not new to the video game: investigators suspect he had been receiving bribes and gifts from Moroccan officials for about a 10 years in return for influencing EU coverage.

Up until finally 2019, when he unsuccessful to get re-elected to the European parliament, Panzeri experienced been the institution’s issue-individual for EU-Moroccan relations, a human rights advocate and a regular customer to La Mamounia, the luxury Marrakesh vacation resort that at the time hosted Winston Churchill.

In accordance to transcripts of wiretapped discussions explained to the FT, the Panzeri spouse and children mentioned gifts from Abderrahim Atmoun, Morocco’s ambassador to Poland. The Panzeris also talked about plans to spend one 7 days, like New Year’s Eve, at La Mamounia, at Rabat’s price.

Panzeri’s wife and daughter are underneath house arrest in Lombardy and are waiting to be transferred to Belgium, exactly where he is becoming held, with prosecutors alleging that they were each mindful of the corruption scheme.

Panzeri’s lawyer declined to remark for this story, as did Morocco’s overseas ministry. A law firm for Panzeri’s wife and daughter reported they denied any wrongdoing.

Panzeri’s ties with Moroccan officers go back much more than a ten years to his time as head of the parliament’s EU-Maghreb delegation. In between 2011-19, Atmoun co-chaired an EU-Morocco joint parliamentary committee with Panzeri, in accordance to community documents. He also travelled regularly to Italy.

Parliamentary documents present Panzeri held views favourable to the Moroccan govt as early as 2010, when he urged the European Commission to allocate much more funding for the country. His voting file also indicates positive votes on the EU-Morocco trade arrangement and the fisheries settlement.

The La Mamounia resort in Marrakesh
La Mamounia is just one of the most popular five-star accommodations in Marrakesh © Alan Keohane/La Mamounia

On September 1 2012, Atmoun attended an event held by the Italian centre-remaining Democratic social gathering, at which Panzeri praised the democratic drive by Morocco, in contrast, for example, to Tunisia. “The EU has at last realised it ought to just take a various technique,” said Panzeri, according to a recorded video clip.

The corruption probe — originally an intelligence procedure which the Belgian mystery services began in 2021, in co-procedure with numerous other European intelligence solutions — started by wanting into components of Morocco’s relations with the EU. The emphasis was on Rabat’s lobbying initiatives on fishing rights and the recognition of Moroccan sovereignty about the disputed territory of Western Sahara, in accordance to two officers familiar with the subject.

Most of Western Sahara is beneath Moroccan regulate, but the Algeria-backed Polisario Entrance has been demanding independence and a UN referendum to ascertain the territory’s destiny has been stalled for many years.

In 2021, an EU courtroom annulled two trade and fisheries agreements between Brussels and Morocco simply because the folks of Western Sahara experienced not been thoroughly consulted, nevertheless they keep on being in power pending an charm.

In July 2022, Belgian intelligence officers planted video cameras in Panzeri’s Brussels dwelling right after acquiring found €700,000 in income stashed there. They then tipped off Belgian police and the federal prosecutor, in accordance to the two officials with awareness of the investigation.

In one instance recorded by surveillance, Panzeri handed out €50,000 in envelopes embossed with Santa Claus to an Italian trade unionist, Luca Visentini, who was seeking re-election as head of the Intercontinental Trade Union Confederation. Visentini admitted getting the dollars as a donation for his ITUC campaign and denied any wrongdoing.

Investigators allege the Panzeri group was capable to impact votes versus two Moroccan activists shortlisted for the European parliament’s prestigious Sakharov human rights award in 2018 and in 2021, respectively. In its place of backing the Moroccan nominee place ahead by the much remaining in 2021, the Socialists in the European parliament finished up voting for a Bolivian candidate nominated by the significantly correct.

Final week, Belgian prosecutors questioned the parliament to waive the immunity of two MEPs suspected of involvement in the Panzeri plan. One particular of them is Panzeri’s successor as Morocco’s position-guy in the European parliament, Andrea Cozzolino. Cozzolino also inherited Panzeri’s aide who is in Belgian custody alongside with his previous manager.

Cozzolino was “provisionally suspended” from Italy’s Democratic get together last thirty day period. The MEP did not answer to requests for comment and his legal professionals declined to comment. In a statement to Ansa, the Italian press agency, his attorneys claimed he experienced “nothing to do with the crimes” and was open up to his parliamentary immunity being lifted.

Charles Tannock, a previous British MEP who authored a report on human rights in 2013 that criticised abuses by Morocco, claimed he had no inkling of any Moroccan bribery makes an attempt, but that Panzeri appeared to be regularly hoping to water down criticism of Rabat.

Panzeri was usually polite and claimed that he merely wished to assure respectable relations with governments in the region, Tannock advised the FT. “I was totally flabbergasted when I read about the allegations.”

The EU’s foreign coverage chief, Josep Borrell, final 7 days visited Rabat and stated he talked about the allegations with the Moroccan govt.

“Obviously, we are involved about these gatherings which have been described in the push. They are disturbing and the expenses are major,” Borrell reported immediately after the conference.

“The placement of the European Union is very clear: there can be no impunity for corruption, zero tolerance for it,” he included.

Morocco’s overseas minister Nasser Bourita mentioned immediately after assembly Borrell that his country’s partnership with the EU was underneath “continuous judicial harassment and recurring media attacks . . . notably at the parliament”.

Additional reporting by Heba Saleh in Casablanca and Henry Foy in Brussels

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