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The backstory: Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former Member of the European Parliament (MEP), has been detained by Belgian police over an ongoing corruption scandal in the EU. The Italian politician and three others are suspected of accepting bribes from Qatar and Morocco to influence EU policy. The other suspects include Greek MEP Eva Kaili, who has been booted from her role as a VP of the EU Parliament, her partner (and Panzeri's assistant) Francesco Giorgi and lobbyist Niccolò Figà-Talamanca. Qatar and Morocco have denied the allegations.
More recently: Panzeri's wife and daughter have also been charged with corruption and money laundering, but they say they weren't involved. Last month, an Italian court said Panzeri's wife, Maria Colleoni, could be extradited to Belgium to face charges. This week, the court also ruled that Panzeri's daughter can be extradited, but she still has time to appeal.
The development: Now, prosecutors announced that Panzeri agreed to a plea deal under an informant law that has only been used once before in Belgium. With this deal, Panzeri faces a year in jail, a fine and the confiscation of €1 million (US$1.08 million) in assets instead of a "much heavier prison sentence."
In exchange, he's agreed to name names (including people he admits to bribing) and give all the nitty-gritty details of the inner workings of the alleged corruption network – including financial arrangements with the countries involved.
"He also acknowledges participating in a criminal organization, and according to the terms used by the public prosecutor's office, he acknowledges being the leader or one of the leaders of the criminal organization," said Laurent Kennes, one of Panzeri's lawyers, on Belgian TV on Tuesday.
"What is important is that, when the lights of the World Cup have gone out, the positive evolution continues not only in Qatar, but it can spread to all the countries of the Arabian Peninsula," said Marc Tarabella, Belgian MEP, referring to the human rights impact of Qatar hosting the FIFA World Cup 2022, according to a translation.
"Let's not forget: these are allegations at this point, there is no proof, there is no concluded investigation. No one has officially said, from the judicial point of view, that Morocco, as a country, is guilty and that Morocco should be avoided in international contacts," said Josep Borrell's spokesperson to Euronews, referring to criticism Borrell faced over a recent trip to Morocco. Borrell is the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.