‘Qatargate’: Figa-Talamanca Calls Belgian Justice “Murky”
Former suspect Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, who was released from prison in February after being accused in the EU-Qatargate affair, described the Belgian justice system as “murky” in an interview with German news outlet Deutshe Welle published on Saturday, as part of his campaign to clear his name. Being linked to an international corruption scandal has had a “greatly detrimental effect on his professional work as a human rights defender,” he said.
Figa-Talamanca, 51, was detained in December 2022 on accusations of being part of a cash-for-favors corruption conspiracy in the European Parliament, now known as “Qatargate.”
This political controversy involved charges that European Parliament officials, lobbyists, and their families were influenced by the government of Qatar and Mauritania, which were involved in corruption, money laundering, and organized crime. Belgian, Italian, and Greek officials seized €1.5 million in cash, confiscated laptops and mobile phones, and accused four people of the alleged crimes.
The suspects include Greek MEP Eva Kaili, her life partner Francesco Giorgi, and his employer, former Italian MEP Antonio Panzeri. Two more MEPs, Marc Tarabella and Andrea Cozzolino.
Ironically, Figa-Talamanca was part of a group of NGOs that commissioned and published a “Undue Influence Report” in February 2022, alleging that money from the UAE was used to bribe MEPs, none of whom it was found later were involved in Qatargate.
Figa-Talamanca’s decision now to voice his concerns publicly comes after the former judge on the closed Qatargate file, Michael Claise, gave interviews to a Belgian radio station on September 9. “The truth is found in the [documents in the case],” said Claise. “The truth will explode one day in the face of manipulators who try to distort it.”
DW asked Claise for a reaction to Figa-Talamanca’s claims, but he declined, saying that is “impossible. My work is founded on secrecy.”
Claised had to be recused from the case June 2023 after it came to light that his son was in business with the son of Belgian MEP Maria Arena, another potential suspect in the investigation.
According to Le Soir, Claise has also launched his own legal complaint to try to identify the culprits of what he has said is a “public smear campaign” against him.
Figa-Talamanca was reinstated as Secretary General of the Italian “No Peace Without Justice” organization after his release.
The European Network of Investigative Journalists published a series of leaks in July 2023 claiming that the UAE engaged Alp Services, a Swiss private intelligence firm, to run “character assassination” operations against supporters of its regional competitors, Qatar, among whose targets was Figa-Talamanca.
Figa-Talamanca was accused of receiving an expensive watch as a gift from Qatar, he denied that accepting the watch was corrupt. “It was valued at €4,000, and it still belongs to my organization, not to me personally,” Figa-Talamanca told DW. “Not accepting it would have been rude.”
“There is nothing specific that I’m accused of, so it’s impossible for me to defend myself,” he added.
“Originally, my thought was that having caught the others [Kaili, Panzeri and Giorgi] red-handed with cash in their homes, I was thrown in for good measure as somebody who was obviously bothering a friendly country [UAE] by denouncing their undue influence in European affairs,” Figa-Talamanca said.
Transcripts of conversations with Antonio Panzeri and Francesco Giorgi have been leaked, including admissions of guilt and insights into the corrupt network. Those transcripts appear to exonerate Figa-Talamanca of any criminal participation, but he now believes they are suspect.
In his defense, he said, “People who make vague threats and speak by allusion cannot then complain and cannot ascribe mafiosi methods to others. Because this is what mafiosi do themselves.”