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Union leader admits payment from NGO in EU graft probe

An international labour leader admitted Tuesday that he had received 50,000 euros ($53,000) from an NGO at the heart of an investigation into allegations Qatar tried to corrupt the European Parliament.

But Luca Visentini, in a press statement, insisted he was given the cash to refund his campaign to take over as general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

The Italian trade unionist denied reports that he had resigned as ITUC leader, saying he had decided to step aside, “a sort of self-suspension”, and was on holiday.

“I accepted this donation in cash because of the quality of the donor and its non-profit character,” he said.

“I was not asked, neither did I ask anything in exchange for the money and no conditions whatsoever were set for this donation.

“This donation was not connected to any attempt of corruption, nor to influence my trade union position on Qatar or on any other issues,” he said.

“I openly reject any possible allegations in this respect as being totally untrue.”

The ITUC board will meet on Wednesday to discuss Visentini’s case.

Visentini received the cash from the Brussels-based campaign group Fight Impunity, founded by former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, who has been arrested and charged with corruption and money-laundering.

Prosecutors allege that Panzeri used the NGO to finance a web of corruption in the European Parliament on behalf of the Gulf monarchy of Qatar. Qatar insists it has no role in the scandal.

Visentini was detained for questioning during a series of Belgian police raids that uncovered around 1.5 million euros in cash but has been released without charge while remaining a suspect.

Four suspects — Panzeri, Greek MEP Eva Kaili, Kaili’s partner Francesco Giorgi and Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, whose NGO “No Peace Without Justice” shares an address with Fight Impunity — have been charged.

The case has sent shockwaves through the European Parliament and triggered promises of reform.

Separately, former European commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told the Greek news agency Ana that he had received 60,000 euros from Fight Impunity between February 2021 and February 2022.

Avramopoulos, a former Greek foreign minister and a member of the European Commission between 2014 and 2019, has resigned as an honorary member of the NGO’s board.