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29 Nov, 2023 13:40

New details emerge in European Parliament corruption scandal

The Moroccan ambassador to Poland is accused of bribing MEPs in order to sway decisions in favor of Rabat
New details emerge in European Parliament corruption scandal

Belgium has issued an arrest warrant for the Moroccan ambassador to Poland, Abderrahim Atmoun, who is accused of bribing European Parliament members (MEPs) to influence decisions in favor of the African country, Politico reported on Tuesday, citing a secret service document.

The Moroccan diplomat transferred cash to certain MEPs “in order either to prevent the vote on resolutions which would be against Moroccan interests, or to pass resolutions which would be in favor of Morocco and would thus contribute to improving the image of this country,” according to the report.

The arrest warrant for Atmoun is part of a larger investigation by Belgian prosecutors into a major corruption scandal in the EU parliament last December linked to Qatar and Morocco. The incident led to the arrest of the institution’s then-vice president, Eva Kaili, as well as several other suspects. Kaili, her husband Francesco Giorgi, and former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri were charged with participation in a criminal organization, money laundering, and corruption.

The lawmakers allegedly engaged in illegal lobbying on behalf of the Qatari government in exchange for millions of euros in cash and gifts, in a scandal that has become known as ‘Qatargate’. Doha allegedly sought to improve its human rights reputation through lobbying in the face of global coverage of workers’ rights in the country prior to hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022.

In Morocco’s case, Atmoun struck a deal with Italy’s Panzeri – then a chair of the European Parliament subcommittee on human rights – and another Italian MEP, Andrea Cozzolino, according to the Belgian secret services report cited by Politico. The lobbying agreement was allegedly reached at a time when Rabat was increasingly pressing its priorities with the EU, including an agreement on fishing rights off the Moroccan coast and the status of the disputed Western Sahara territory.

Panzeri signed a plea deal earlier this year in which he admitted to participating in corrupt acts with Morocco but claimed he repents for his actions.

According to a prosecutors’ report obtained by Politico, the Italian politician confessed that he and his colleague Giorgi had each received €50,000 ($55,000) per year in exchange for lobbying for Rabat’s interests. Giorgi has confirmed receiving funds from Morocco, the outlet added.

Following the arrest of Panzeri and other suspects, the European Parliament voted in January to condemn Morocco’s human rights record, in the first such move in more than two decades. Rabat denounced the resolution as an affront to its sovereignty.

Belgian authorities had previously issued a national notice for the arrest of Atmoun in January, as well as Qatari Labor Minister Ali Bin Samikh Al Marri and his aide, Bettahar Boudjellal, police reports suggest.

The investigating judge has also requested that the Moroccan envoy’s assets in France, including a three-star hotel and an apartment, be frozen. Atmoun also holds French citizenship.