Qatargate suspect files new complaint against Belgian corruption probe

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One of the main suspects in the investigation into corruption in the European Parliament and alleged interference by countries such as Morocco and Qatar has lodged new complaints about the conduct of Belgian investigators, calling for the entire case to be dropped.

Francesco Giorgi’s complaint includes the secret recording of a conversation with a senior police official involved in the case, who visited him at home last year and complained that prosecutors and judges in Belgium served a political agenda. The main suspects in the so-called Qatargate case had already called for an inquiry into the Belgian investigation last year, which delayed the trial of the case.

Giorgi’s lawyers presented the 18-minute recording to federal prosecutors on Monday questioning the “regularity” of the investigation, according to a copy of the letter accompanying the documents seen by the Financial Times.

Lawyer Pierre Monville said he would share the recording with all other parties involved in the case “so that everyone could draw their own conclusions,” the letter said.

Police Chief Inspector Ceferino Alvarez-Rodriguez stopped by Giorgi’s apartment on May 3, 2023 to return a phone that had previously been seized by police. The conversation was recorded by Giorgi without the knowledge of the police investigator.

Giorgi had been released from prison three months earlier and was made to wear an electronic bracelet, after being arrested in December 2022 when police found hundreds of thousands of euros in cash at his and his partner’s home.

The Italian citizen had been a long-time parliamentary assistant to the scheme’s alleged boss, former MP Pier Antonio Panzeri, who was also arrested in December, with police seizing a total of €1.5 million in cash. Panzeri struck a plea deal with Belgian investigators last year, following the arrest of his wife and daughter. He admitted receiving money from foreign governments to influence European legislation in exchange for a reduced sentence – a deal which has yet to be approved by a Belgian court.

According to the recording cited in the legal letter and heard by the FT, Alvarez-Rodriguez claims that Belgian authorities believed Panzeri was lying when he entered into the plea deal.

“We know it [Panzeri is lying] and we will do what is necessary to ensure that [plea bargain] it will not pass,” says Alvarez-Rodriguez. “If we prove that she is lying. . . it’s over.”

The recording shows that Giorgi was furious that investigators had searched his apartment after his release from prison and seized notes he had written for his legal defense.

In response to Giorgi calling Belgian investigative methods “shocking” and saying he doesn’t trust the judiciary, Alvarez-Rodriguez says: “You have to be crazy to trust the judiciary today, whatever the country, whatever the judiciary.”

“I will trust the judiciary the day judges and prosecutors are not politically appointed, okay? I have no faith in the judiciary because its strings are pulled by politicians.”

Judges and prosecutors in Belgium are selected by an independent judicial council and then appointed by the Minister of Justice.

The investigating judge in the case, who was approving the arrest warrants and supervising the investigation, Michel Claise, stepped aside in June 2023 after it was revealed that his son was in business with the son of another linked MEP in Panzeri.

At the time, the prosecutor’s office said that Claise would resign “out of caution and to allow justice to continue its work calmly and to maintain the necessary separation between private and family life and professional responsibilities.”

The prosecutor’s office said on Monday that it had taken note of the remarks attributed to a police officer and recorded without his knowledge. You stated that your investigative work focuses precisely on “verifying the veracity of the statements” made by the person who entered into a plea agreement and whether all legal requirements were met for such an agreement to be approved.

“Procedures are currently underway before an independent tribunal to examine the legality of several investigative actions,” the office added.

The federal police declined to comment.

Additional reporting by Laura Dubois in Brussels

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