As the EU corruption scandal unfolds, there are more questions than answers

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BRUSSELS (AP) — No one answers the door or the phone at the offices of the two campaign groups linked to a cash-for-favors corruption scandal at the European Union’s parliament, allegedly involving Qatar. There is no light inside.

No Peace Without Justice, a pro-human right and democracy organization, and Fight Impunity (which seeks to bring rights smugglers to trial), share the same address. It is located on prime realty in the governmental quarter.

Four people have been indicted since Dec. 9 for corruption, participating in a criminal organisation and money laundering. Prosecutors said in a statement that they suspect certain European lawmakers and aides “were paid large sums of money or offered substantial gifts to influence parliament’s decisions.”

Qatar rejects allegations that it’s involved. The Gulf country that’s hosting the soccer World Cup has gone to considerable trouble to boost its public image and defend itself against extensive criticism in the West over its human rights record. It recently lobbied for EU approval on air and visa issues.

Pier Antonio Panzeri (Fight Impunity President) is not speaking. He declined to comment about his client’s role in an affair that has shaken the European Parliament and halted the assembly’s work on Qatar-related files.

Niccolo Figa–Talamanca is the secretary-general for NPWJ. He has been released from jail, but must still wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. On its Italian website, after he stepped down, the group praised his work, saying it hopes “the ongoing investigation will demonstrate the correctness of his actions.”

Eva Kaili (who was removed as the vice president of EU parliament after the charges were laid) and Francesco Giorgi (a parliamentary assistant) are also being charged. They have posted photos on social media that portray a couple who is attractive and ambitious from the Mediterranean.

After months of investigation, more than 20 raids have been launched by police, mostly in Belgium, but also in Italy. A suitcase and an apartment in Brussels were both seized with hundreds of thousands of euro. They were also found at a nearby hotel.

The data of 10 parliamentary assistants and their mobile telephones were taken.

Taking to Twitter, Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne described what he calls the “Qatargate” investigation as a “game changer.” It was achieved, he said, “partly thanks to years of work by State Security,” the country’s intelligence agency.

According to what Italian newspaper La Repubblica and Belgian daily Le Soir said were transcripts they had obtained of his Dec. 10 statements to prosecutors, Giorgi allegedly confessed to managing money on behalf of an “organization” led by Panzeri that dealt with Qatari and Moroccan representatives.

“I did it all for money, which I needed,’’ Giorgi told prosecutors, according to La Repubblica. Kaili was a Greek TV presenter who is 44 years old. Giorgi tried to protect Kaili and asked that she be released. Kaili’s lawyer has said she knew nothing about the money.

Giorgi arrived to Belgium in 2009. He made a career at the parliament with the center-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group. Panzeri was at that time an EU lawmaker. He met him at a conference. “I asked him to give me an internship, and he did,’’ Giorgi said in his statement.

According to the Italian newspaper, Panzeri was his mentor and made him an assistant. Giorgi was relieved that the scheme had been discovered. He described himself to be a simple man who was unable to control his emotions due the moral obligation he felt towards Panzeri.

Up until his arrest, Giorgi worked as an assistant for another S&D lawmaker, Andrea Cozzolino. Italy’s center-left Democratic Party suspended Cozzolino on Friday while the probe goes on. He temporarily withdrew from the S&D.

In Italy last weekend, Panzeri’s wife, Maria Dolores Colleoni, and daughter, Silvia Panzeri, were taken into custody on a European arrest warrant. One of their lawyers said that a Brescia court had placed them under house arrest.

On Friday, a Milan judicial source confirmed to AP that 17,000 euros ($18,075) were seized during a search of Panzeri’s house, where his wife is staying, in Calusco d’Adda in the Bergamo province northeast of Milan. Computers, documents, watches, and cell phones were also confiscated by police.

Police separately found a key to a safe deposit box in the house of Giorgi’s parents in the Milan suburb of Abbiategrasso, leading investigators to discover 20,000 euros ($21,260) in cash.

Panzeri’s wife is expected to appear in court again on Monday, when a panel of judges will decide whether to extradite her to Belgium. For their daughter, a similar hearing will take place Tuesday. Kaili will appear in court in Brussels on Thursday.

Milan’s source said that they were investigating other people, but did not identify them. According to the source, they weren’t EU legislators or campaign activists.

There are many questions that remain unanswered regarding the scandal. If any Qatari officials were involved, what are their answers? Why target the EU’s parliament? How broad is the net of investigators? What was the role played by Panzeri, the ex-lawmaker and president of Fight Impunity.

No light shines in his office, but Panzeri’s own words on his group’s website could point the way: “Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ If we are to continue to move towards justice, accountability must be our guiding light.”

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Barry reported from Milan. Samuel Petrequin from Brussels and Nicole Winfield from Rome contributed.

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