In December 2022, Fight Impunity founder Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former MEP and former chair of the Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights (as well as the body’s delegation for relations with the Maghreb region), was arrested under “preliminary charges of participating in a criminal organization, money laundering and corruption.” He currently faces allegations of substantial bribery on behalf of Qatar and Morocco in exchange for facilitating influence in European institutions, with additional accusations related to Mauritania. The investigation that culminated in his arrest had been discreetly conducted over a course of several months. Also arrested in the “Qatargate” affair were Fight Impunity’s self-proclaimed cofounder and senior advisor Francesco Giorgi, along with his life partner Eva Kaili, a VP of the European Parliament.
Mr. Panzeri acknowledged his guilt and is currently cooperating with authorities by revealing tactics and techniques associated with the “Qatargate” affair, including the role of Fight Impunity. Mr. Giorgi partially admitted guilt and has also provided accounts of Fight Impunity’s role in the bribery apparatus. Belgian authorities executed searches of the residences belonging to Mr. Panzeri, Mr. Giorgi, and Ms. Kaili; following the arrest of Giorgi, Ms. Kaili instructed her father to remove a suitcase full of cash from their residence. Ms. Kaili’s father brought the illicit cash to his hotel, where he was intercepted by police. The total of illicit cash seized by Belgian authorities related to “Qatargate” was €1.5 million.
In February 2023, Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella was arrested in relation to “Qatargate”. Also arrested by Italian finance police was Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino, for whom Mr. Giorgi worked as an assistant and whom Mr. Panzeri implicated in receiving substantial bribes from Qatar. Mr. Tarabella, who was until his arrest a member of the Parliament’s Delegation for relations with the Arabian Peninsula, remains charged with corruption after Mr. Panzeri and Mr. Giorgi implicated him as a recipient of bribes on behalf of Qatar. Mr. Tarabella denies involvement in the bribery scandal. As of late May 2023, Mr. Cozzolino remains under house arrest in Italy facing extradition on a European arrest warrant for corruption; he also denies the charges. Ms. Kaili also maintains her innocence.
Ostensibly Fight Impunity’s aim was to promote human rights; however, its senior leadership has reportedly admitted to Belgian authorities that its true intention was to act as a conduit for bribery on behalf of Morocco, Qatar, and Mauritania. According to court documents seen by Le Soir, Mr. Panzeri’s cash-for-influence scheme with Qatar and Morocco predates the organization’s foundation. An account given to Belgian investigators by Mr. Giorgi claims that Fight Impunity was founded in 2019 to function as a conduit for illicit funds; moreover, the outlet quoted the former Parliamentary assistant as stating that the NGO served to professionalize Panzeri’s apparatus of corruption, acting as part of “a clear system that would not sound the alarm.” Mr. Giorgi further stated that funds were received in exchange for lobbying services from Mauritania. A Belgian investigator described Mr. Panzeri as “a real danger to the democratic balance.”
At least one of the organization’s other cofounders has publicly denounced the activity, as have numerous well-respected board members, many of whom resigned upon the revelation of its activities, citing feelings of shock and betrayal. Unless specific evidence of wrongdoing emerges, it is not IEI’s intent to name or implicate these individuals; rather, we seek to highlight Fight Impunity’s likely-tactical use of high-profile, legitimate, and well-respected personalities. With high-profile board members largely serving in “honorary” roles with little to no real involvement, Fight Impunity was able to mask or camouflage non-statutory activities behind a façade of respectability.
The NGO did not appear on the EU's Transparency Register, a database which has since April 2021 mandated inclusion for all organizations seeking to lobby or otherwise influence the EU Parliament, EU Council, or EU Commission. An honorary Fight Impunity board member and former EU Commissioner told the EU Parliament in February 2021 that the organization intended to place itself on the Transparency Register following the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and resumption of in-person activities. Fight Impunity never followed through with placing itself on the Transparency Register, and according to the Belgian courts has also never filed specific legal accounts required to be submitted annually.
The “Qatargate” investigation is pending with most suspects now released from pre-trial detention and house arrest, with some including Ms. Kaili and Mr. Tarabella returning to work in the Parliament though charges remain. Mr. Panzeri and Mr. Giorgi are cooperating with authorities, though as of late May 2023 Mr. Panzeri and Mr. Cozzolino remain under house arrest. While awaiting trial, Ms. Kaili, Mr. Tarabella, and Mr. Cozzolino maintain their innocence, whereas Mr. Panzeri and Mr. Giorgi have cooperated with the investigation in exchange for reduced penalties.
Third sector organizations such as nonprofits, think tanks, or foundations possessing meaningful links to or behaviours consistent with: malign influence and finance; financial and organised crime; narrative or reputation laundering; or espionage, amongst others, may morally corrode the nonprofit space. Additionally, any organization engaged in or associated with such activities can potentially serve as a vector for undermining western institutions and values as well as transatlantic relationships. Open-source information indicates Fight Impunity's senior leadership and its direct as well as indirect activities warrant the designation of this organization as a “high-risk NGO”. Therefore, Fight Impunity has been placed onto the Institute for European Integrity’s NGO Watchlist.