Italian officials have launched their own investigation into whether the Milan-based Equality Consultancy helped launder Qatari bribes to EU lawmakers, a person familiar with the investigation confirmed. And Thursday three judges in Milan will have to decide whether to send the founder of the company, Monica Bellini, to Belgium.
But first, local officials want to see the latest evidence from Belgium.
Belgian prosecutors had had their eyes on Equality and Bellini for weeks. Bellini worked as an accountant for former Italian MP Pier Antonio Panzieri, the alleged mastermind of the cash-for-influence-in-parliamentary network working on behalf of Morocco and Qatar. And his company, Equality Consultancy, has remained entangled in a network of figures today at the center of the so-called Qatargate scandal.
Bellini, Belgian investigators write in a European arrest warrant obtained by POLITICO, “played an important role in repatriating money from Qatar, where he created … a company that could give the impression of a legal flow of money” .
Now, for the first time, the Italian authorities are also exploring these links separately.
Inevitably, new attention will be drawn to Bellini and the links between his work in Italy and the alleged corruption creeping into the European Parliament – a relationship that remains obscure. Details could be added on exactly how Qatargate occurred.
From Milan to Brussels…to Tallinn?
Bellini’s work with Equality Consultancy is shrouded in mystery.
Public records and internal communications describe a company that was alive for only a short time, moving quickly to spread internationally and make political connections, with only fleeting success.
Equality Consultancy was born in 2018, when Bellini founded the company in Italy with Stefano and Luciano Giorgi, according to Multiple Media Reports . The assembly pulled her into a family that would become close to an EU corruption investigation. Stefano Giorgi is the younger brother of Panzieri’s former aide Francesco Giorgi, who is considered by the Belgian authorities to be a key player in the alleged corruption ring in Qatar, while Luciano Giorgi is their father.
The company grew rapidly.
In 2019, Equality Consultancy had annual revenues of €240,000 and profits of €102,500, according to internal documents obtained by Politico and published in the Italian press. That same year, the company took faltering steps to establish a presence in Brussels.
According to a person familiar with the plans, in 2019 the organization leased office space at SilverSquare, a co-working space on Square de Mee in the heart of the city’s consulting district. Contacted by telephone, a SilverSquare employee who declined to be named confirmed that Equality had leased space.
With a local foothold, Equality is starting to make connections.
WhatsApp messages from a phone number of two people linked to Francesco Giorgi showed him working to expand the firm’s Brussels operations in late 2019. The firm eventually arranged at least one meeting with a local accountant, according to an internal company email seen by person at the meeting.
Equality also set up, for unclear reasons, the “EQuality Consultancy OÜ” in the Estonian capital Tallinn in 2018, according to the country’s public register. But the company remained dormant until the outpost was liquidated in the summer of 2019.
Francesco Giorgi has since been accused by the Belgian authorities of corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal organization. He is currently out of prison with an electronic ankle tag, awaiting trial. Panziri, his former boss, admitted to running a bribery ring as part of a plea deal.
Bellini’s and Stefano Giorgi’s lawyers did not respond to Politico’s multiple requests for comment. Francesco Giorgi’s lawyer said he did not want to comment on the ongoing investigation. The Belgian prosecutor did not respond to a request for comment.
Follow the money (down).
Inequality vanished as quickly as it blossomed.
In 2020, revenue fell to €81,000, with a loss of €51,000 a year, according to internal documents.
The company’s owners blamed the pandemic.
“Our business with one of our major clients has been canceled and services have been frozen until September,” Bellini wrote in an internal report, seen by Politico, detailing the owners’ meeting on July 9, 2020. But Bellini remains optimistic: “We have confidence in the recovery to meet the costs”.
Bellini and one of his aides did not respond to requests for comment on the report.
In the end, that wasn’t the case. By 2021, the company closed in Italy, according to public records.
The ball is now in the Milan court for the judges.
In January, a local judge delayed a decision on Bellini’s extradition. The reason was, basically, that local authorities wanted to see more evidence from the Belgians, according to the Visible Written document by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
On Thursday the public will get an indication of whether the Italian authorities are satisfied with what they have seen – or have not seen -.
On Wednesday, the local prosecutor said the last documents were yet to arrive.
Camillo Giggs, Peter Heck AND Elena Giordano and Gian Volpicelli Contribute to the drafting of the reports.
Source: La Tribuna