An on-going Belgian investigation has unearthed evidence which shows that it is in fact Morocco’s bribery of MEPs which made Qatar’s cash for white-washing its own human rights records a formality. But a former MEP colleague of Antonio Panzeri plus a UN investigator, both lift the lid on the Morocco dossier to reveal much more graft which threatens to affect Rabat’s claims to sovereignty in Western Sahara
Both a former colleague of an Italian socialist MEP in the European parliament who is at the centre of the corruption scandal and a former Western Sahara UN official, have stated that is in fact Morocco – not Qatar – which is chiefly responsible for the bribery going on in Brussels, dating back even 15 years.
In a podcast interview, the respected Portuguese former diplomat and ex-MEP Ana Gomes actually goes on the record and accuses Peir Antonio Panzeri MEP of blocking her attempts – while they were both on the same parliament committees and Maghreb delegations – to exclude Western Sahara from benefiting from EU trade deals while white-washing Morocco’s human rights record there.
“As soon as I heard that Mr. Panzeri was involved in this case regarding Qatar, I immediately was suspicious, and said it publicly, that this would link to Morocco” she explains to Democracy Now, “because for all these years, three mandates in which I have served in the European Parliament, served exactly together with Panzeri in the same political group, we had a number of disputes exactly because of Western Sahara”.
Gomes, a respected anti corruption campaigner, retired from being an MEP in 2019 after eight successive terms in office, claims that if Panzeri had not been corrupted by Moroccan ‘gifts’, the line of the EU towards Morocco’s sovereignty claim of the annexed region of Western Sahara would have been very different.
“All the time he was trying to protect the interests of Morocco, preventing that we would focus on human rights in Morocco itself and, of course, the human rights of the people of Western Sahara, which have their basic and number one human right, which is the right to self-determination, violated by Morocco, since long”, she argues.
Panzeri scheme’s Brussels office
Both Gomes and a UN official from the Western Sahara mission believe that the heart of the Qatar corruption scandal is, in fact, Morocco, due to Panzeri’s ‘work’ but also a ‘friends group’ set up by Morocco in Brussels.
The now-dormant Euromeda Foundation, co-founded in 2018 by a former Moroccan state minister, Mohamed Cheikh Biadillah, and previously co-chaired by Salaheddine Mezouar when he was head of Morocco’s largest trade business union, was suspected by Belgian prosecutors of being the bedrock of all murky transactions between both Morocco and Qatar and their ‘friends’ in the European parliament.
According to a Brussels based website, which claims to be apart from the swamp of EU-funded propaganda channels (but was originally 100 percent funded by parliament slush funds in 2004), a respected political consultancy is linked to the bribery scandal.
According to EUobserver.com “the foundation subleased office space at Hill & Knowlton Strategies consultancy some 150 metres away from the European Parliament. Morocco was Hill & Knowlton’s top client, netting up to €300,000 in fees in 2016. The consultancy’s executive strategy director Alain Berger is Euromeda’s secretary general. Its president is former French socialist MEP Gilles Pargneaux, who in 2018 was also chair of the EU parliament’s friendship group with Morocco” it explains.
Who needs ‘friends’ when…
But in the murky world of lobbying in the Belgian capital, this group, along with other ‘friendship groups’ often got confused by media as actually being part of the European parliament. Finally, such groups were banned by the parliament. But what did Euromeda do, other than give cash and gifts to Panzeri and two other colleagues who are all now in jail?
One UN official believes there is no doubt that the main thrust of their efforts, apart from white-washing human rights records, was to make sure Western Sahara benefitted from EU trade deals between Morocco and the EU and calls Euromeda Morocco’s “group of friends” in Brussels which did most of the hard work in finding the MEPs who were open to receiving bribes from the Qataris.
“On the part of Morocco — and this group of friends is very articulate, in the sense not just in terms of numbers or, you know, level or stature of the participants, but they do a very thorough job”, explains Francesco Bastagli, a former U.N. special representative for Western Sahara (MINURSO) which, it should be pointed out is also mired in sex and corruption scandals.
“In other words, they don’t just channel money or resources; they also facilitate the identification of parliamentarians that could be — because of the nature of their functions and responsibilities within the Parliament, can be of greater use to their clients and create occasions where these parliamentarians can be approached through social gatherings, through visiting missions and so on” he explains.
“So it’s a very articulate system, which includes also monitoring the behavior of parliamentarians that have been bribed, to make sure that, you know, they vote or behave or lobby in line with what is expected of them”.
So then what did the Moroccans want from these ‘friends’?
“Now, when it comes to Morocco, as which was rightly said, Morocco has a long tradition of a very aggressive presence both in terms of bilateral relations with key countries or in international fora, such as the U.N. and European Union, in support of its agenda” says Bastagli.
“And this indeed has had a tremendous impact on two dimensions, that’s already been hinted. One, of course, in the sphere of economic and trade relations, and we are talking about European Union in this particular instance, where repeatedly Morocco has been trying to include the territory Western Sahara in these agricultural, fisheries agreements with the European Union. This is very important, because Western Sahara is very rich in — you know, fishing fields of Western Sahara are among the richest in the world. Western Sahara is a major producer of phosphates that are extremely important for the production of fertilizers and so on. So, whenever Morocco was signing any trade agreement with the European Union, it was very important that this agreement should include the territory of Western Sahara. And this is where the lobbying effort of the friends of Morocco became extremely important, so much so that twice the agreements between the European Union and Morocco included the territory and resources of Western Sahara, and twice the European Court nullified, declared these agreements invalid”.