*updates with quote from Belgium’s federal prosecutor
A leaked police report seems to indicate Belgian MEP Marie Arena might have played a bigger role in the Qatargate case than she is admitting to.
News outlet Sudinfo ran a piece about an 11-page police document it said contained interactions by phone and text between Arena and Antonio Panzeri, the key suspect in the cash-for-influence Qatargate investigation.
The memo is based on a declassified document from the Belgian State Security Service, the newspaper claimed. “It concerns three facts: public corruption, criminal organisation and money laundering,” Sudinfo said.
While Arena has never been prosecuted and denies any wrongdoing, the report, again, could put her in a tight spot.
The conversations she had with Panzeri appear to indicate that she was an essential figure in the Panzeri network.
She also is alleged to have received jewellery, gifts and handled what appears to be large sums of money. Panzeri, it seems, thanked her for “collecting” such money.
Arena was in contact with several figures in the Qatargate probe, including Moroccan Ambassador to Poland Abderrahim Atmoun.
Atmoun invited Arena and Panzri to Marrakech to dinner in Belgium and also allegedly offered perks such as free trips and sports events tickets to Arena’s son when prompted.
There was also a suggestion of holding a summit in Niger to discuss the Sahel humanitarian crisis in Africa. Arena apparently planned to organise it through Panzeri’s organisations, Fight Impunity and No Peace Without Justice, because she lacked the ability to do so in the European Parliament.
Investigators seem to think Arena was directly advised and instructed by Panzeri.
Giuseppe Meroni, Panzeri’s former parliamentary assistant, has gone so far as describing her as part of a “quadriumvirate”, together with MEPs Andrea Cozzolino, Alessandra Moretti and Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella.
In 2022, a trip to Qatar was planned for May 7 to May 9. There, Arena would apparently issue an official statement on human rights and discuss “another matter” that she had taken on herself, seemingly much to Panzeri’s delight.
Panzeri is alleged to have received a Rolex watch from a Qatari minister during this trip. He presented it to Arena, together with other jewellery, a necklace, it is alleged.
The investigators also reportedly concluded that, “Marie Arena was involved in calculating the remuneration received from Qatar for the work carried out by Panzeri and Giorgi on their behalf.”
Furthermore, according to the same investigators: “Marie Arena appears to be carrying out tasks and projects directly on behalf of the Qatari Minister of Labour, who is concerned about the progress of the tasks and projects entrusted to Marie Arena by Panzeri and Giorgi.”
A few days ago, Belgian newspapers accused the Belgian Government of dropping the warrant against Qatari Labour Minister Ali bin Samikh al-Marri in exchange for the Iran-held NGO worker Olivier Vandecasteele and three other European nationals.
Brussels Signal reached out for a reaction from the office of Marie Arena, but as of this publication did not receive a reply.
“All I can confirm is that the investigation is progressing normally”, Eric Van Der Sypt, spokesperson for the Federal Prosecutor told Brussels Signal.
Attempts to have the case thrown out have had no influence on the ongoing investigation, he said.
Just over €280,000 in cash was discovered during a police raid at the home of the son of Belgian MEP Marie Arena. https://t.co/ug0Iw4oyW0
— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) August 30, 2023