Report. Morocco sought to clean up its image on human rights in Europe. The pressure was aimed at making people lose sight of the lack of respect for human rights in Western Sahara.

Qatargate goes to Morocco, implicating Italians in influence schemes

In the recent weeks of investigation on the Qatargate scandal, what is emerging more and more clearly is the pressure exerted by the Moroccan intelligence services on MEPs, with such repercussions and of such magnitude that, according to the Brussels prosecutor’s office, this is just “the tip of an iceberg.”

According to the latest developments in the investigation, “the policy of the Socialists and Democrats group was allegedly influenced on behalf of Morocco by a group of three Italians,” whose names were mentioned in order: Antonio Panzeri, current MEP Andrea Cozzolino and their adviser Francesco Giorgi, supported by Mohamed Belahrache, an official of the DGED (Directorate General of Studies and Documentation),” i.e. the Rabat secret services.

The action plan aimed to establish “new relationships across all political groups, including the European right,” according to a recent editorial by Ali Lmrabet, a Moroccan journalist in exile due to the political persecution enacted by the Rabat government, in which he quotes some confidential documents from Moroccan diplomacy aiming to “incentivize” contacts with representatives of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally. Just as “important,” according to Rabat, were relations with Salvini’s Lega, for the purpose of “defining a list of Italian companies for future contracts and securing favorable press for the Moroccan government,” with the 2016 scandal linked to money sent by Mohamed Khabbachi, the former director of the MAP national news agency and King Mohammed VI’s emissary for lobbying activities, and received in Paris by the Lega’s fixer, Gianluca Savoini.

According to the Maroc-Leaks website set up by alleged hacker Chris Coleman, which features hundreds of confidential documents, the strategy was essentially tied to the “Action Plan for the European Parliament.” According to Belgian newspaper Le Soir, Brussels prosecutors found “evidence of bribery and recruitment by Moroccan intelligence services” of a group of politicians in the European Parliament so that they would make “decisions necessary to promote economic agreements with Morocco, the country’s human rights image, and implement the annexation and autonomy plan related to Western Sahara.”

Morocco’s secret plan included renewing agreements with the EU, particularly with the help of Panzeri (then head of the European Parliament’s delegation for the Maghreb), Frenchman Gilles Pargneaux, German Social Democrat Elmar Brock, Spanish MEP José Ignacio Salafranca and Belgian Socialist Marc Tarabella, all “trusted friends” of Rabat. The support was made evident by the EU-Morocco agreement on “agriculture and fisheries,” which came into force in 2019, and its application to the Western Sahara area, later annulled by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) because it was done “without the consent of the people of Western Sahara and their legitimate representative: the Polisario Front.”

The agreement was promoted and supported by Patricia Lalonde, rapporteur for the European Parliament on the controversial proposal to extend the agreement to occupied Western Sahara, which stirred much controversy. Lalonde’s subsequent resignation came as a result of her membership in the EuroMedA group, a Moroccan lobby with a budget of €20 million per year, created to “recruit new sympathizers.”

The EU-Morocco partnership and the signing of new agreements are a “crucial point” for Rabat, because these deliver European aid in the amount of tens of millions of euros per year for migration and border management. This is precisely why EuroMedA’s lobbying activity is considered “effective” by Rabat, with pressure aimed at making people lose sight of the lack of respect for human rights in Western Sahara.

On the political-diplomatic front, there was the official visit, on Thursday and Friday, to Rabat by the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, to talk about bilateral agreements with Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch and Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita. “Let’s not forget there are [only] allegations at this point. There is no proof, there is no concluded investigation. No one has officially said from the judicial point of view that Morocco as a country is guilty and Morocco should be avoided in international contact,” said Borrell’s spokesman, Peter Stano, about the scandal.

This position is meant to shield the diplomat from embarrassment, who said his trip was “an opportunity to discuss the EU-Morocco partnership,” which “must be deepened in light of the current challenges.”

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