April 13. 2024. 5:45

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Moroccan ambassador offered MEP Arena, Panzeri ‘luxury stay’

Belgian MEP Marie Arena (S&D) was offered a stay in a luxury hotel in Morocco with former Italian MEP Pier-Antonio Panzeri – the alleged mastermind of the so-called Qatargate – back in 2015, although she was “unaware” that the trip was financed by a Moroccan ambassador, Panzeri claims.

“In 2015, there was a trip with Marie Arena. She accompanied me for two or three days to La Mamounia [hotel, where we had meetings with the Sahrawi community,” the former Italian MEP said in this account of a hearing], which was made available to Le Soir and La Repubblica.

The Sahrawi community, also known as the Arab democratic Republic is a partially recognised state claiming sovereignty over Western Sahara, a disputed territory.

“I think that Marie Arena thinks that it was me who invited her, but in reality, everything was taken care of by [Moroccan ambassador Abderrahim] Atmoun,” he added.

Panzeri, for his part, has not yet specified whether Atmoun covered the expenses from his own funds or from those of the Moroccan state itself.

Contacted by Le Soir about this 2015 trip, Arena declined to comment. She had previously made no secret of the fact that she had developed a “professional friendship” with the now-repented Panzeri in the previous EU legislature.

“The money and the trips were not taken care of by Atmoun but by a Moroccan agency,” Panzeri continues a little further on in his hearing, without specifying which trips and when he is referring to.

“I found out about it because my hotel key was in a pocket with the name of the reservation. It was the DGED. That’s when I realised,” he said referring to the Moroccan foreign secret service.

According to a declassified note from the Belgian State Security, which was handed over to the judicial investigation, Atmoun took his orders in this operation of interference from a secret “Mohamed B.” an alleged secret agent of the DGED – Le Soir reported.

Back in January, Panzeri signed a “repentance agreement” under which he agreed to collaborate with Belgian authorities in exchange for a “limited sentence”.

Panzeri’s lawyer told the press that “one of the reasons’’ Panzeri wanted to speak out is because “he knows he betrayed the trust of certain people,” including Arena, who was also cited by the press reporting on Qatargate. “He will mention her name to say that she had absolutely nothing to do with [the corruption system] and that he would never have dared to offer her anything,” he added.

Panzeri also accused Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella (S&D) – former vice-chair of the EP’s Delegation for relations with the Arab Peninsula (DARP) – of having received “gifts” from Qatar.

In his testimony, Panzeri kept his “promise” to clear the former DROI subcommittee chair. “I want to make it clear that she has nothing to do with this” he said, referring to the deal with Qatar.

As Le Soir points out, however, there is some circumstantial evidence which suggests Marie Arena might indeed have been guilty of wrongdoing.

During a wiretapped phone call held shortly after an infamous DROI subcommittee meeting with the Qatari Minister of Labour Dr Ali bin Samikh Al Marri on 14 November, Panzeri reportedly thanked Arena for her interventions and claimed that the Qatari Minister was “satisfied” with the proceedings.

Contacted by Le Soir, Arena declined to comment about the details of the phone call.

More trips?

In his hearing, Panzeri also stated that he had stayed in the luxurious hotel in 2017 or 2018. He was travelling together with his former parliamentary assistant, Francesco Giorgi – Eva Kaili’s partner.

“These trips were totally organised and taken care of by Atmoun,” Panzeri also said.

(Arthur Riffaud, Anne-Sophie Gayet | EURACTIV.com)