Former EU lawmaker’s tax accountant arrested in Italy over EU graft scandal


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MILAN — The tax consultant of a former EU lawmaker at the center of a cash-for-influence corruption scandal at the European Parliament has been arrested in Italy, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.

The scandal, the biggest to rock EU politics in decades, hinges on suspicions that Qatar and Morocco bribed politicians, parliamentary assistants and NGOs to influence decisions of the EU assembly.

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Qatar reiterated that it had no involvement in the EU corruption scandal. Morocco complained of “judicial harassment” after the graft probe.

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Monica Rossana Bellini, who worked for former center-left parliamentarian Pier Antonio Panzeri, was arrested by the Guardia di Finanza tax police in Milan, after a request from Belgium through a European warrant.

She faces charges of criminal association, corruption and money laundering. According to the European arrest order, summarized to Reuters by a second source, the accountant is suspected of setting up companies to launder alleged corruption money.

Her two lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

Later Wednesday, a judge of the Milan appeals court validated the arrest and granted Bellini house arrest, a judicial source said.

Towards the end of the month there will be a hearing at the appeals court to decide whether to hand her over to the Belgian authorities.

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Panzeri, who was arrested in Brussels in December and charged with three others, including Greek EU lawmaker Eva Kaili, has agreed to cooperate with investigations in exchange for a reduced sentence, a Belgian prosecutor said on Tuesday.

His sentence will include one year of prison time and four years of a suspended jail term, a fine and the confiscation of all assets acquired, estimated at 1 million euros ($1.08 million), the prosecutor’s spokesperson, Eric Van Duyse, told Reuters.

Panzeri served as a member of the European Parliament from 2004-2019. After leaving the EU chamber he set up a Brussels-based NGO called Fight Impunity, which is accused of taking the illegal payments from Qatar and Morocco.

Last month, Italian authorities put under house arrest other members of the Panzeri household wanted by Belgian authorities, namely his wife Maria Dolores Colleoni and daughter Silvia.

They have denied any wrongdoing.

On Monday, a court cleared Silvia Panzeri’s extradition to Belgium, while Colleoni has appealed against her transfer to Brussels before Italy’s highest court, which is expected to rule on Jan. 31. (Reporting by Emilio Parodi, writing by Alvise Armellini and Emilio Parodi Editing by Keith Weir and Nick Macfie)


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