UPDATED: Former MEP Panzeri’s tax accountant arrested in Italy over EU graft scandal

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ROME, Jan 18 (Reuters) – The tax consultant of a former EU lawmaker at the centre of a cash-for-influence corruption scandal at the European Parliament has been arrested in Italy, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.

Monica Rossana Bellini, who worked for former centre-left parliamentarian Antonio Panzeri, was apprehended by Italian police acting on a request from Belgian authorities through a European arrest warrant.

She faces charges of criminal association, corruption and money laundering. It was not immediately possible to reach her lawyer for comment.

Panzeri, who was arrested in Brussels in December and charged with three others including Greek EU lawmaker Eva Kaili, has agreed to cooperate with investigations in exchange for a reduced sentence, a Belgian prosecutor said on Tuesday.

Belgium’s federal prosecutor said that former Italian member of the European Parliament Pier Antonio Panzeri agreed to work with Belgian authorities over a cash-for-influence corruption scandal in exchange for a reduced sentence.

The prosecutor said in a statement Panzeri signed a “repentance agreement”, where he commits to make “substantial, revealing, truthful and complete statements” about parties involved, and crimes committed, in the case.

In particular, he will inform investigators about how the operations were conducted, the financial arrangements with other involved countries, the financial structures that were set up, including their stakeholders and benefits, the involvement of known and unknown people within the investigation, including the identity of the individuals he admits to having bribed.

His sentence will include one year of prison time and four years of suspended jail term, a fine and the confiscation of all assets acquired, estimated at one million euros ($1.08 million), the prosecutor’s spokesperson Eric Van Duyse told Reuters.

“It’s a win-win situation”, he said.

Without the memorandum, Panzeri would receive “a much heavier prison sentence” and he was “sufficiently in the center of the dossier to provide (Belgian investigators) relevant information,” Van Duyse said, adding that if Panzeri failed to provide satisfactory information, the memorandum would be cancelled.

It is the second time since the law that allows such agreements was introduced in 2018 that these proceedings have resulted in the signing of a memorandum.

The European Parliament on Monday began a month-long procedure to waive immunity from prosecution for two lawmakers.

EU Parliament President Roberta Metsola told the assembly in Strasbourg that Belgium had requested immunity be lifted for Italian Andrea Cozzolino and Belgian Marc Tarabella, both of the centre-left Socialists and Democrats.

Panzeri, Greek EU lawmaker Eva Kaili, along with two others are currently in Belgian custody facing charges of corruption, money laundering in relation to alleged payments from Qatar and Morocco.

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