Italy court weighs handover in EU Parliament corruption case

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Angelo De Riso, Nicola Colli

Lawyers for Maria Dolores Colleoni, wife of former MEP Antonio Panzieri, Angelo De Riso, left, and Nicola Colli arrive at the Brescia’s lawcourt, northern Italy, where Colleoni will be heard in connection with an EU lobby scandal investigation involving her husband. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

BRESCIA, Italy (AP) — An Italian court on Monday was deciding whether to hand over to Belgium a suspect in a big corruption scandal at the European Parliament, in which Belgian prosecutors suspect the wife and daughter of a former lawmaker of being part of a criminal gang trying to influence EU legislators on behalf of Qatar and Morocco.

According to arrest warrants seen Monday by The Associated Press, former EU lawmaker Pier Antonio Panzeri and three other suspects were charged on Dec. 9 with corruption, participation in a criminal group and money laundering. Belgian prosecutors suspect that they “were paid large sums of money or offered substantial gifts to influence parliament’s decisions.”

The investigation of allegations of cash and gifts for political influence corruption is one of the biggest to hit the European Parliament. Lawmakers last week suspended work on Qatar-related files and vowed to toughen lobbying laws. Qatar vehemently denies that it is involved.

According to the two European arrest warrants issued by Belgian judge Michel Claise, Panzeri is “suspected of intervening politically with members working at the European Parliament for the benefit of Qatar and Morocco, against payment.”

Panzeri’s wife, Maria Dolores Colleoni, and their daughter, Silvia Panzeri, are suspected of being “fully aware” of his activities and even to help transport “gifts” given by Morocco’s ambassador to Poland, Abderrahim Atmoun.

Prosecutors in Belgium are seeking their transfer to Belgium to face the same charges as the other four suspects, who include a former EU parliament vice president and her Italian partner. They face up to five years in prison if found guilty, according to the warrants.

A hearing was under way Monday in Brescia on whether to hand over Colleoni, while her daughter’s case will be heard separately on Tuesday. They are both under house arrest near Brescia, though Colleoni was in court on Monday. Panzeri himself is detained in Belgium.

Colleoni’s lawyer, Angelo de Riso, said handing her to Belgian authorities would violate her human rights because an Italian court has already conceded house arrest and a transfer to Belgium would land her in jail pending charges and trial.

A former vice president of the European Parliament, Eva Kaili, remains in custody in Belgium awaiting a hearing on Thursday. Her term in office was terminated by EU lawmakers last week. Her partner, Francesco Giorgi, was a parliamentary advisor.

Besides Panzeri, who leads the Fight Impunity campaign group, Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, secretary-general of the non-governmental organization No Peace Without Justice, was also charged. He has been released from prison but remains under surveillance and must wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

Separately Monday, the former head of the Italian parliamentary committee on intelligence on Monday told reporters that a report on Qatar had been prepared and unanimously approved in August. The report has been classified and sealed, according to Adolfo Urso, now a minister in Premier Giorgia Meloni’s government. The report also includes China and Russia.

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Cook reported from Brussels.

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