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Thursday, Feb 02, 2023

Nobel Prize winner Mukwege says he was ‘never’ paid by NGO at heart of Qatargate probe

Nobel Prize winner Mukwege says he was ‘never’ paid by NGO at heart of Qatargate probe

The Congolese doctor sat on honorary board of Fight Impunity, which other high-profile members have left amid the scandal.
Renowned Congolese doctor and Nobel Prize winner Denis Mukwege on Monday played down his role at one of the NGOs ensnared in the snowballing Brussels lobbying scandal involving alleged bribes from Qatar and Morocco.

Mukwege, famous for treating survivors of sexual violence at his Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sat on the honorary board of the human rights group Fight Impunity, established in 2019 by former Italian Socialist MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, who is now in jail pending trial in relation to the scandal.

Fight Impunity is among the groups at the heart of the so-called Qatargate corruption allegations, centered on whether Qatar and Morocco bought influence in the European Parliament, including from former Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili, who’s among the four so far charged in Brussels.

Mukwege is one of a long list of luminaries who Panzeri persuaded to join his honorary board, lending the NGO an aura of respectability despite the fact it was never registered in the EU’s transparency log. Former EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, for instance, has admitted to receiving €60,000 for his role on the honorary board.

Along with the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, Mukwege also won the European Parliament’s 2014 Sakharov Prize for his work to combat the use of sexual violence in wars. Other members of the board said the gynecologist’s involvement helped persuade them to sign up too.

In a statement Monday, Mukwege’s Panzi Foundation said it “never received financial support from the NGO Fight Impunity; nor has our President participated in any of its meetings.” A spokesperson for Mukwege later clarified that the statement referred to in-person meetings. They also said he has resigned from the honorary board.

The statement said he did participate virtually in two events co-organized by Fight Impunity and the Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights related to his push for justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo, adding that the subcommittee, known in parliamentary shorthand as DROI, “regularly” invited him to take part in its work.

“We hope that the work of the European Parliament in promoting and protecting human rights around the world is not suspended or hindered by this scandal of corruption,” Mukwege’s statement said.

Mukwege is the most high-profile board member who was yet to speak out about the scandal that erupted on December 9 when Belgian authorities seized €1.5 million in cash amid raids around Brussels and made several arrests.

The center-right European People’s Party group has called for DROI’s work to be frozen pending further investigation, a proposal strongly contested by human rights NGOs and other political groups.

DROI’s chair, Belgian Socialist MEP Maria Arena, has not been charged or investigated but has multiple ties to Panzeri, who ran the committee during the last parliamentary mandate. The office of Arena’s parliamentary assistant Donatella Rostagno, who also moonlighted for Fight Impunity, was raided by the Belgian police earlier this month.

Belgian authorities have also seized computer equipment from the office of a Parliament official called Mychelle Rieu, who is the head of the DROI secretariat.

In an email to top DROI MEPs earlier this month, seen by POLITICO, Arena said she would temporarily not chair the panel’s meetings “until the facts are established.” She wrote: “Light has to be shed on all wrongdoings, the responsibility of everyone implicated needs to be established.”

The EPP has called on Parliament President Roberta Metsola to formally suspend her.

Arena has frequently championed Mukwege’s work on justice, gender-based violence and conflict minerals in the DRC.

Other members of the Fight Impunity honorary board have also resigned since the scandal broke, including former French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

“All these people have been tricked by hooligans,” Cazeneuve told POLITICO.

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