It was a Friday morning last December when Belgian police, following targeted investigations, proceeded to issue warrants against leading politicians in an influence-peddling scandal.

The case that would quickly be named Qatargate, it is about a dark underworld of foreign interference that is undermining the core of the European Union.

The investigation, which has been ongoing for months, is the “first step” in an effort to uncover… “high risk” by Belgian prosecutors and has all the hallmarks of a Hollywood script.

There were spies, secret meetings in luxury hotels, a glamorous political couple who drowned and above all, allegations that Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania had penetrated deeply into its democratic processes EU corrupting MEPs with a… cold and almost surgical composure costing €1.5 million in cash.

Six months after the fateful December 9th for the protagonists of this unprecedented political thriller, several current and former MEPs are behind bars on preliminary charges of corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal network.

At the same time indications from the chief investigators clearly indicated that the charges could be even more.

The European Parliament — still in shock — is embarking on ethics reforms in a bid to “clear the air of the stench of corruption ahead of next year’s European elections.

At the same time, the scandal also sparked anger and criticism of the socialist family to which the accused MEPs officially belonged.

With most of the main defendants now freed pending trial, Parliament is once again home to one of the accused MEPs returning to his duties, while a second accused MEP wishes to resume his parliamentary duties.

Belgian prosecutors insist, at least according to a report by Belgian newspaper Le Soir, that the investigation could be largely completed by the end of the year.

However, with each passing month, it seems that more questions are being asked than answers are being given, with a more basic question that essentially remained – and may forever remain unanswered – what did the people who allegedly approached actually receive in return? MEPs with the aim of corrupting them.

At this stage the Politico attempts with an extensive summary to summarize the facts by presenting the 11 protagonists of the case.

Antonio Panzeri, the “first boy”

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Panzeri has never been the top-caliber politician in the European Parliament, having more or less rarely engaged public opinion before his involvement in the scandal.

An old associate of the former MEP describes how Panzeri tended to spend parliamentary committee meetings watching YouTube documentaries about plane crashes on his iPad.

Jailed in Belgium from December to April, Panzeri pleaded guilty and agreed to name names in a deal struck with prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence.

His wife and daughter, who were arrested in Italy, were also released.

In his depositions — some of which POLITICO has seen — he doesn’t hesitate to “give away” other MEPs, describing receiving gifts and cash bribes from Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania.

Police seized €600,000 in cash from his home in Brussels on December 9.

He remains under house arrest in Brussels.

Eva Kaili, the… “defeating star”

The glamorous Greek journalist left the media for politics while her career was at its height, and held the office of the deputy speaker of the Parliament at the time of the revelation of the scandal.

On December 9, she gave her father a suitcase full of cash, which he took with him when he was subsequently arrested by authorities after leaving his daughter’s apartment.

Kaili was sent to prison and within a few days she lost her parliamentary position.

He had made pro-Qatar speeches in Parliament eahead of the FIFA World Cup.

He lobbied other MEPs to take a softer line on the issue that had arisen over the country’s handling of human rights while unnecessarily voting for a visa waiver. for Qatar.

She has maintained her innocence from the start, refusing to back down despite spending more time in prison than any other suspect in the case, during which she claims she was treated badly and the authorities violated her rights as a mother of an infant.

Recently released from house arrest, she is planning a political return to Parliament in consultation with her lawyers.

With no EU political party or group in sight, however, and with a Catergate trial hanging over her head as a ‘Sword of Damocles’ while an independent criminal investigation into her misuse of EU funds is pending, the her attempt to transform the narrative by presenting herself as a victim instead of a perpetrator, seems impossible.

Francesco Giorgi, the confidant

Giorgi, Eva Kaili’s partner and father of their daughter, acted as a connecting link between the Greek MEP and Antonio Pantseri.

The acquaintance of the two men was long-standing since Giorgi had for years the duties of interpreter and… carrier of Pancheri’s bags.

Arrested minutes before Eva Kaili in December, he quickly admitted his role in the Qatargate ring but is now out of jail and living under the same roof as the Greek MEP.

Mark Tarabella, the anti-hero

Belgian Socialist MEP Marc Tarabella is accused of accepting gifts after Panzeri claimed he received up to €140,000 from him to influence the Qatari proceedings in the European Parliament.

Tarabella denies everything and insists on his innocence throughout his involvement in the scandal from the first moment when the authorities also raided his home, in the presence of the EP president, Roberta Metzola, until the press conference where he granted the May.

After being arrested in February, he was released in April and now, according to the report, “is back to doing what MEPs do best: delivering speeches to an empty plenary.”

Andrea Cozzolino, “the limb”

Of the three sitting Socialists and Democrats MEPs accused of corruption, Andrea Cozzolino’s case is the strangest – not least because he hasn’t set foot in Belgium in months.

Since he was arrested in a Naples hospital in February, he has been fighting his extradition to Belgium while remaining under house arrest.

The Belgians want to question him as he is accused of blocking resolutions involving countries such as Morocco in exchange for cash.

In 2019, he took over from Pantzeri as head of the European Parliament delegation for the Maghreb, hiring Francesco Giorgi.

After a bureaucratic “war” between Belgium and Italy, it was decided to extradite him to Belgium although Cozzolino has appealed to Italy’s Supreme Court

Abderrahim Atmoun, the man from Rabat

As Morocco’s ambassador to Poland, Atmoun was one of the most well-connected diplomats in Europe.

According to two arrest warrants seen by POLITICO, the Moroccan diplomat is listed as one of Pantzeri’s regular contacts.

Atmoun has been back in Morocco since the middle of last December and since then has remained very very discreet about the case.

Ali Bin Samih al Marri, the “Controller”

Qatar’s labor minister was elected president of the United Nations Labor Organization’s annual conference a few days ago – despite his alleged involvement in Qatargate and criticism of his country’s treatment of migrant workers during the 2022 World Cup.

He has not been formally charged but his name has been implicated in the Belgian police investigation as a “controller” of Pancheri’s activities

Al Marri has been the face of Qatar’s campaign to win allies and has been a frequent guest at the European Parliament’s human rights subcommittee, where he regularly meets with some of the main suspects in Qatargate.

The Qatari politician is said to be one of the participants in the infamous meeting in a hotel in Brussels revealed by the Belgian Le Soir.

Nicolos Talamanca, the head of human rights

Talamanca, who headed the NGO No Peace Without Justice, was arrested, accused of corruption and imprisoned by the former.

He was released in February, however, when prosecutors appeared to downplay his role after Pancheri’s confession.

On the one hand, his NGO had rented office space from Pancheri’s NGO, and on the other, they appeared to have the same sponsor as the Human Rights Foundation, an organization which denied any knowledge or role in Qatargate.

Monica Bellini, the accountant

Belgian prosecutors suspected that Pancheri’s accountant helped him launder money by helping to set up a front company called Equality Consultancy, which even had a presence in Brussels.

According to reports, she has denied that she has committed a crime, while the data regarding her person seems even more confusing since a separate investigation is underway by the Italian authorities and for other people around Bellini and her company.

Luca Visentini, the trade unionist

Visentini was among the first to be arrested and later released without charge.

During the campaign to be elected head of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Visentini admitted receiving around 50,000 euros in donations from Panzeri’s Fight Impunity NGO, money given to him as cash in Santa envelopes, according to with some publications.

Visentini has maintained his innocence, saying money played no role in his positive pronouncement on Qatar’s labor reforms during his tenure as head of the European Trade Union Confederation.

Maria Arena, “work friend”

Maria Arena was known as Pancheri’s close associate, with herself describing their relationship as a “professional friendship”

The MEP from Belgium was neither interrogated nor charged, with her steadfastly declaring that she is innocent, that she has nothing to do with Qatargate and that she continues her work in the European Parliament.

Arena was one of the first to be called by Eva Kaili after the arrest of her partner on December 9. This is the MEP who replaced Pancheri as head of the EP’s human rights subcommittee in 2019.