London Daily

Focus on the big picture.

Belgium closes in on Qatargate win 

Belgium closes in on Qatargate win 

After clinching cooperation with one key suspect, the EU corruption case now hinges on securing hard evidence.

Does tiny Belgium have what it takes to convict the alleged perpetrators of a sprawling corruption scandal that is engulfing the European Parliament?

This question hung over conversations in the corridors of Brussels after emergence of the so-called Qatargate allegations in December. But last week, the Belgian prosecutors made a major breakthrough.

Former Italian EU lawmaker Pier Antonio Panzeri, one of four suspects currently detained in the investigation, last Tuesday struck a deal with Belgian prosecutors to exchange information for a reduced sentence.

Panzeri’s agreement to cooperate with authorities is a big boost — not just for the investigation, but also for the Belgians involved, who have a lot riding on it.

Key Belgian politicians, including Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, have been boasting about the independent work of their country’s judiciary, police and intelligence branches, which led to the arrests. For them, it’s a sign Belgium takes its job as a host country of EU institutions very seriously.

The Qatargate scandal has threatened the credibility of those institutions after prosecutors went public with their investigation in early December. Belgian federal police raided at least 20 locations across Brussels, seizing mobile phones, computers and more than €1.5 million in cash. Four people were arrested on preliminary charges, amid claims that the governments of Qatar and Morocco handed out large sums of cash to get EU politicians to do their bidding.

Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne told POLITICO that through this investigation, the justice department is “showing its teeth.”

“I am confident that the federal prosecutor’s office will do everything possible and get to the bottom of this case,” he said, adding: “It’s no coincidence the law used is the ‘pentiti’ law, because this law was a useful tool in the fight against the Italian mafia.”

The minister is referring to Belgium’s so-called repentants statute, which is being used in the current EU corruption case for only the second time since it was created in 2018. The first — an inquiry into money laundering, bribery and match-fixing in Belgian soccer in 2021 — was also led by Michel Claise, the Belgian investigative magistrate now at the helm of the Qatargate probe.

The second time around, the challenge ahead for Claise — known in Belgium for fighting corruption — is to actually deliver on Qatargate amid widespread leaks to the media from within the investigation.

That means there’s even more pressure on Belgian justice to come up with hard evidence.


Risky leaks


For the defendants, the widespread leaks since the start of the arrests are a bad omen — and welcome ammunition.

Maxim Töller, the lawyer for the Belgian socialist MEP Marc Tarabella, has heavily criticized the investigation. Tarabella’s house was raided and Belgian investigators asked the European Parliament to waive his immunity — although he has not yet been formally charged.

Töller told Claise “there was a huge problem of procedure” due to leaking of key documents to media.

Belgian justice sees the leaks — which include detailed overviews of the investigation, court documents and information from intelligence services — as potentially interfering with the case.

Van Quickenborne told POLITICO last month that the repeated leaking of information is “dangerous” to ensuring justice. The federal prosecutor has opened a separate investigation into the leaks, although this has not stopped them.

The suspects’ defense lawyers could latch onto such leaks to blow procedural holes in the case, or argue that the right to professional secrecy, respect of the presumption of innocence and the right to access sealed documents have been violated. According to the European Convention on Human Rights, every defendant has the right to a “fair and public hearing.”

Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne told POLITICO that through this investigation, the justice department is “showing its teeth”


But in practice, leaks rarely lead to the end of a case, said Raf Verstraeten, a legal expert at the University of Leuven.

“Leaks are unfortunate — but the idea that this would destroy the entire trial is a very, very long shot. We’re absolutely not at that point,” he said. According to Verstraeten, much more would have to happen before a trial gets tossed out for being unfair. “The fact that there are leaks is regrettable, but it does not immediately result in a decision that there is no fair trial.”


No more secrets


What the leaks can do is impede cooperation with other police forces and justice systems — and intelligence, which is key for the Belgians. Above all, they risk undermining trust among the various services involved in the case.

The head of the Belgian intelligence agency, Francisca Bostyn, told Belgian media the leaky case “puts us in trouble with our foreign colleagues. Now it looks like Belgium cannot keep any secrets. Frankly, I think it’s a problem that all our methods are being made public.”

Intelligence from Belgian state security and other secret services was key in kicking off the legal investigation. Yet using information from intelligence services is not always straightforward in a criminal investigation, said two investigators who are not involved in this specific case but have worked with intelligence services on other files.

Pier Antonio Panzeri has agreed to disclose the names of those he admits to having bribed


“Intelligence services often provide you with a lot of key information, but not all that information is usable in court,” one said. Nor are sources always disclosable, the investigator pointed out. “That can make it challenging for the investigators and the prosecution to build a solid case.”

In Belgium, information from intelligence services can be used as supporting evidence, but must be accompanied by other evidence.

Analysis of the money seized needs to help prove where it was drawn and by whom. Above all, it must show whether and how the money could indeed be linked to influencing political decision-making in the European Parliament. If that analysis does not provide enough evidence, the investigation could still fall apart.

Panzeri’s cooperation will be key to building that case. If the Italian shares the information he’s pledged to, this could include details of financial arrangements, the countries involved, who benefited and who else took part. Panzeri has also agreed to disclose the names of those he admits to having bribed.

That means for those who still have something to hide, now is the time to get nervous.

Newsletter

Related Articles

London Daily
0:00
0:00
Close
Hello and welcome back. Here are today's top stories from around the world, you don't want to miss:
UK PM Sunak and the Election Betting Scandal
Climate Activists Target Taylor Swift's Private Jet in UK
United States Bans Kaspersky Antivirus
US to Supply Taiwan with Suicide Drones Amid Rising Tensions with China
Bodyguard of UK Prime Minister Arrested for Alleged Election Betting
Global Displacement Crisis: Record Numbers in 2023
Muslim Community Leader Criticizes Nigel Farage for Undermining Muslims
Melinda Gates Discusses 'Horrible' Divorce from Bill Gates
Child Obesity Surge in England: A Deep Concern
U.S. Sues Adobe Over Hard-to-Cancel Subscriptions
Deadly Heat Wave Claims Dozens of Lives During Hajj Pilgrimage in Mecca
Here are today's top worldwide stories you don’t want to miss:.
World’s Largest Pilot Union Calls to Eliminate Terms Like ‘Cockpit’ and ‘Manpower’ for Equity
Woman Suing UK Intel Services Denies China Spy Allegations
Iran Sentences Nobel Laureate Narges Mohammadi to 1-Year Prison Term for Propaganda
News roundup
Good day, everyone! We've got some gripping stories for you today, spanning from the Middle East to Europe, and even a touch of Hollywood.
Britain’s Refugee Visa Rules Stranding Children in War Zones
UK Elections Predict ‘Electoral Extinction’ for PM Sunak’s Conservative Party
Italian Activist Ilaria Salis Returns Home After Election to European Parliament
Good morning!
England Faces Serbia in Euro Opener with Defensive Concerns
Dermatologist Warns Against Sunbed Usage
Fake Pro-Reform UK Social Accounts and Their Influence on Elections
UK Man Jailed for Non-Consensual Condom Removal
Reform UK Surpasses Conservatives in Historic Poll
US, Britain, Canada Accuse Russia of Interference in Moldova’s Election
Taylor Swift Fans Create Seismic Activity in Edinburgh
Sunak Aide Under Investigation for Election Bet
Labour Leader Starmer Focuses on Wealth Creation for Upcoming UK Elections
G7 to Use Frozen Russian Assets for $50 Billion Ukraine Aid
Anti-Israel Irish MEP Clare Daly LOST her seat in the EU Election
Johnson & Johnson Settles Talc Safety Claims for $700 Million
EU Urged to Welcome Skilled Russians to Weaken Putin
EU Elections Overview: Far-Right Gains and Major Political Shifts
Israel Rescues Four Hostages from Gaza
Emmanuel Macron Calls for Snap Election
Jordan Bardella: Young Far-Right Leader Poised for Future Political Influence in France
World's Oldest Privately Owned Book Auctioned for $3.8 Million
Animal Rights Activists Deface King Charles' Portrait in Protest
Dutch Military Intel Uncovers Extensive Chinese Cyber Espionage
Turkish Student Arrested for Using AI to Cheat in University Exam
Rise in Dengue and Other Mosquito-Borne Diseases in Europe Due to Climate Change
EU Elections Overview: Far-Right Gains and Major Political Shifts
Far-Right National Rally Dominates France's EU Vote
Macron Calls Snap Legislative Elections After Far-Right Victory
Far-Right Gains Significantly in EU Election
UK Job Market Shows Signs of Recovery
Orban’s Fidesz Party Wins Majority in Hungary’s EU Elections as New Challenger Emerges
×