Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, on an official visit to Rabat was swift to congratulate Morocco for reaching the football World Cup’s semifinal — but barely touched upon on the EU’s investigation of the so-called Qatargate corruption scandal.
Borrell, who had just met with Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch and Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, said he “obviously raised the issue of the investigation” into corruption at the European Parliament, as Morocco is coming under heightened scrutiny over its involvement in the case.
“We are obviously preoccupied by these events reported by the press: They are worrying, and the accusations are serious,” Borrell said, repeating what has become the EU’s official line, “There can be no impunity for corruption.”
“We have to wait for the results of the ongoing investigations from judicial authorities, which have to bring all clarity on these events, and we expect a full collaboration from everyone in this investigation,” he added.
Prior to these remarks, the EU’s foreign policy chief took the time to “congratulate Morocco for the exceptional run” of its national football team during the latest World Cup, where it reached the semifinals after notably defeating Spain, Borrell’s home country.
“Morocco played really, really well, and I have to congratulate the football players and the country as a whole,” Borrell said.
Rabat has come under increasing scrutiny over its involvement in the corruption allegations, which have shaken the European Union since the scandal broke in early December.
Initially centered on cash for undue Qatari influence within the European Parliament, the Belgian authorities’ investigation then pointed to a Moroccan ambassador and his personal relationship to the Italian and ex-European lawmaker Pier Antonio Panzeri, the man at the heart of the matter.
In an extradition request asking for the transfer to Belgium of Panzeri’s wife and daughter, who live in Italy, a Belgian prosecutor wrote that Abderrahim Atmoun, Morocco’s ambassador to Poland, had been sending “gifts” to Panzeri’s relatives. He has yet to publicly answer these allegations.
Panzeri has been detained in Belgium since December 9, while his wife and daughter were arrested in Italy the next day.
The timing of Borrell’s first visit to Morocco as EU foreign policy chief raised eyebrows among the media in Brussels. Questioned by reporters at a press briefing on Wednesday, Peter Stano — spokesperson for the European External Action Service — said the visit “had been planned for some time,” and was “a normal, integral part” of Borrell’s job.
“The high representative continues his engagement with partners from third countries regardless of the allegations out there, because engagement is the only way to discuss issues,” Stano said.