A country in North Africa, Morocco has been the silent player in the international political race. It was vastly known to remain on the bleachers, but the Kingdom was betting on an imperative horse. The European Parliament had been proving to be that winning horse for Morocco.
Over the years, the two sides have been sowing seeds of corruption in anticipation of beneficial outcomes for Rabat. However, as the investigators dug deep, they unveiled what came to be known as “MoroccoGate”.
A probe by Belgian intelligence authorities revealed decades-old covert tactics of Morocco, which attempted to buy influence in the European Parliament. The scandal puts lights on the high-ranking EU officials and member of the EU Parliament, including former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, who accepted bribes and illegal gifts from the Kingdom in return of supporting its position on numerous subjects.
Panzeri maintained a favourable opinion towards the Moroccan government as early as 2010, when he pushed for allocating more funding to Rabat. Between 2011-19, he co-chaired an EU-Morocco joint parliamentary committee with Abderrahim Atmoun, Morocco’s ambassador to Poland. In 2014, Panzeri was awarded with the third class “wissam” Alaoui for his services to the Kingdom by the King Mohammed VI of Morocco. Panzeri was consistently assisted in his efforts to support Morocco by his former assistant Francesco Giorgi.
Panzeri received money from Atmoun using multiple NGOs as a cover. In January 2023, La Libre reported that a suitcase confiscated from Panzeri by Belgian police contained an envelope with a logo of the Red Crescent of the United Arab Emirates. The media house stated that the acronym was much visible in Arabic, clearly representing that it was the UAE’s Red Crescent and not Qatar’s.
As investigations advanced, Morocco’s lobbying efforts including the use of consulting and PR companies were also revealed.
But, what did Morocco received in return?
Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne referred to Morocco as a country that is known in the EU for interfering. MoroccoGate scandal puts light on Rabat’s extensive propaganda efforts, where it sought for its personal interests by opening the channel of bribery towards the EU. Using its resources, Morocco attempted to protect its agendas internationally, also concerning the long-standing conflict on Western Sahara.
After the investigation opened into the MoroccoGate scandal, the September 2022 visit by four MEPs — David Leisterh, David Weytsman, Clémentine Barzin, and Gaëtan Van Goidsenhoven — to the city of Laâyoune in Western Sahara came under scrutiny. Rabat’s campaign to buy influence also shushed the MEPs over the human rights violations committed in Western Sahara.
Van Quickenborne stated that the investigation is focusing on multiple topics, also including the Moroccan trade arrangements with the EU, under which Morocco pushed for the fishes caught off Western Sahara to be covered. The MEPs also had to often struggle on topics like access to country’s phosphates, human rights, visas and migration.
On 19 January 2023, the EU parliament issued a resolution, urging the Moroccan authorities to respect the freedom of expression and of the media. It took more than 20 years and an investigation into the MoroccoGate scandal for the European Parliament to speak against the Morocco’s human rights.
La Libre reports that several organizations are operating in Brussels under the secret status of non-profit, in order to defend the agendas of Middle Eastern countries like the UAE. A Norwegian NGO, the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) had been working on these lines in Avenue Louise. In 2014, it was assigned to investigate on the fate of workers in Qatar, assisting the UAE in defaming the country.
Morocco has long been out of the limelight, but not merely in the audience. The comprehensive strategy of lobbying, bribing and buying influence helped Morocco in achieving positive votes on its trade agreements and deathly silence from the EU Parliament on some grave issues like repression, torture, murder, and other human rights violations. The Belgian investigation is gradually opening the boxes that had been holding the Kingdom’s secrets, assisting it in washing its image.
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