Belgium drops Italy extradition bid for EU graft suspects
Belgium has dropped a request that Italy extradite the wife and daughter of a former MEP detained at the heart of an EU graft probe, a judicial source said Friday.
The source said the two suspects — caught up in sprawling investigation into alleged efforts by Qatar and Morocco to buy influence in the European Parliament — were ready to come to Belgium for questioning by themselves.
Maria Dolores Colleoni and Silvia Panzeri, the wife and daughter respectively of Italian ex-lawmaker Pier Antonio Panzeri, who has struck a plea deal, were arrested in December and had been held under house arrest.
A lawyer for the pair told Italian media on Thursday that they were happy to now be “free” and were prepared to go to Belgium when summoned by investigators.
Panzeri, 67, is the central figure in a suspected network, dating back to 2014, that distributed cash bribes, allegedly funded by Morocco and Qatar.
Qatar denies any wrongdoing in the case. Morocco says it is the target of media “attacks”.
Panzeri is one of four suspects held in Belgium following police raids in December that turned up 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in cash.
Prosecutors last week announced a deal with Panzeri that would see him receive a lighter jail sentence and confiscation of a million euros in assets in return for detailing which countries gave him money and whom he paid off.
“He was very worried about his wife and daughter and now hopes for some generosity (from Belgian authorities), it’s human and legitimate,” his lawyer Laurent Kennes told AFP on Monday.
The allegations of influence-peddling have roiled the European parliament and sparked unease in other EU institutions, with concerns voiced that their public credibility could be shaken.