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Italy court weighs handover in EU Parliament corruption case

Prosecutors said wire taps uncovered the evidence of possible crimes.

BRESCIA, Italy (AP) — An Italian court was deciding Monday whether to hand over a suspect in a big corruption scandal linked to the European Parliament, in which Belgian prosecutors suspect the wife and daughter of a former EU lawmaker participated in a plan to peddle influence on behalf of Qatar and Morocco.

Former EU lawmaker Pier Antonio Panzeri and three other people were charged on Dec. 9 with corruption, participation in a criminal group and money laundering. Belgian prosecutors are investigating if they “were paid large sums of money or offered substantial gifts to influence parliament’s decisions.”

The allegations that cash and gifts were exchanged for political influence are at the heart of one of the biggest scandals to hit the European Parliament. Lawmakers last week suspended work on Qatar-related files and vowed to toughen lobbying laws. Qatar vehemently denies its involvement.

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According to two European arrest warrants issued by Belgian Judge Michel Claise and seen Monday by The Associated Press, Panzeri is “suspected of intervening politically with members working at the European Parliament for the benefit of Qatar and Morocco, against payment.”

Panzeri’s wife, Maria Dolores Colleoni, and their daughter, Silvia Panzeri, are suspected of being “fully aware” of his activities and helping to transport “gifts” from Morocco’s ambassador to Poland, Abderrahim Atmoun.

Prosecutors said wire taps uncovered the evidence of possible crimes. They are seeking Colleoni and her daughter's transfer to Belgium. The two women face five years in prison if found guilty of participation in a criminal group, corruption and money laundering, according to the warrants.

Along with Panzeri, who leads the Fight Impunity campaign group, the four people already charged include a former EU parliament vice president and her Italian partner.

A hearing was under way in Brescia, Italy, on whether to hand over Colleoni, while her daughter’s case was scheduled to be heard separately on Tuesday. They were both under house arrest near Brescia, though Colleoni was in court on Monday. Panzeri himself is detained in Belgium.

Colleoni's lawyer, Angelo de Riso, said handing her to Belgian authorities would violate her human rights because an Italian court has already conceded house arrest and a transfer to Belgium would land her in jail pending charges and trial.

The former European Parliament vice president, Eva Kaili, remains in custody in Belgium awaiting a hearing on Thursday. Her term in office was terminated by EU lawmakers last week. Her partner, Francesco Giorgi, a parliamentary advisor, is also in jail.

Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, secretary-general of the non-governmental organization No Peace Without Justice, was also charged. He has been released from prison but remains under surveillance and must wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

Separately Monday, the former head of the Italian parliamentary committee on intelligence told reporters that a report on Qatar was prepared and unanimously approved in August. The report has been classified and sealed, according to Adolfo Urso, now a minister in Premier Giorgia Meloni’s government. The report also includes China and Russia.

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By COLLEEN BARRY and LORNE COOK Associated Press

Cook reported from Brussels.

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