One of Hakan Camuz's early jobs in London after he left Turkey in 1992 was at a kebab restaurant, where he worked 15-hour shifts and dozed on the chairs between customers. It was an inauspicious start for a man who would go on to cultivate connections in circles of wealth and power from London to Ankara and beyond — and who would ultimately be implicated by name in a bribery scandal that continues to reverberate through the European Parliament.
In between the kebab shop and the scandal that would come to be known as "Qatargate," Camuz worked at a hamburger stand until he learned English. Later he earned a bachelor's degree in politics and international relations.
While studying for his master's degree in war studies at King's College, Camuz worked as a translator and an assistant to lawyers who helped Turkish citizens with their legal issues in London. Eventually, Camuz became a legal counsel.
Subsequently he established numerous companies registered in the United Kingdom and Turkey. Some of them appear to connect him to Qatargate.
"In the last 10 years, our work in the field of immigration law has focused more on human rights violations and war crimes," Camuz told DW. "We have filed many cases of war crimes and human rights violations."
Camuz also sits on the board of the Radiant Trust. The charity's website describes its activities as "[assisting] human rights-centered organizations around the world to raise the funds they need to achieve their goals."
In 2021, he founded and briefly directed London RS Properties, a real estate company owned by then former Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek and Abdurrahman Resitoglu, a construction tycoon who is regularly contracted by the Turkish government for public tenders. Erdogan reappointed Simsek to the post in 2023.
Corruption in the European Parliament
In late 2022, several members of the European Parliament — including Vice President Eva Kaili, of Greece, and her partner, Francesco Giorgi — were arrested in Brussels on charges of corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal organization.
According to early reports on the scandal, dubbed Qatargate, officials from Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania had given all-expenses-paid luxury travel and cash transfers to members of the European Parliament to sway policy decisions on issues such as a 2021 aviation agreement that gave Qatari airlines access to EU airports. The MEPs in question are also accused of working to ensure that the European Parliament would refrain from publicly criticizing these nations on human rights issues, such as freedoms for women and LGBTQ communities and the treatment of migrant workers and minorities.
Antonio Panzeri, an Italian member of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2019, is the suspected ringleader of the operation. After being arrested, Panzeri and his assistant, Giorgi, agreed to collaborate with the Belgian authorities in exchange for reduced sentences.
According to Giorgi's testimony, obtained by the Italian newsmagazine L'Espresso and shared with DW, he and Panzeri used a shell company in Italy called Equality Consultancy SRL to legitimize the flow of money instead of continuing to rely on cash for bribes. Panzeri told investigators that money from Qatar was transferred to him and his associates through "a Turkish businessman and his lawyer in London." Giorgi went a step further, implicating Camuz by name.
Camuz, who has not been publicly named as a suspect in the investigation, told DW that he doesn't personally know the politicians accused of involvement. However, he said he had met Giorgi in Doha, the capital of Qatar, at a conference related to Camuz's human rights work through Stoke White, and he was impressed by the Italian's success as a lobbyist — especially at the European Parliament.
In 2019 and 2020, Camuz's legal consultancy, Stoke White, and a foundation that he sits on the board of trustees for, the Radiant Trust, sent a total of €115,000 ($138,000) to Equality Consultancy, according to documents examined by DW. Camuz said he made the payments in exchange for "ethical lobbying services" from Giorgi to raise the profile of his human rights work at the European Parliament and to help his organizations gain access to EU funds.
Clues in the Paradise Papers
In addition to the testimony from Panzeri and Giorgi and the interview with Camuz, DW used open-source databases and leaks to get more information on the parties involved. According to the Paradise Papers — published by Die Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2017 — a company named Radiant Properties Limited is registered on the British tax haven island Jersey. It is managed by the Radiant Trust.
The official registry maintained by the Jersey Financial Services Commission offered additional information on Radiant Properties Limited: The real estate company is owned by Khalid Al Thani, a prominent member of the Qatari royal family and the CEO of Qatar International Islamic Bank, and his son Turki Al Thani.
Though DW was unable to confirm that the Radiant Trust found in the Paradise Papers database and the Radiant Trust where Camuz is a trustee are one and the same, both entities bear the identical name, have been registered in the same jurisdiction and exhibit contemporaneous activity. Also, according to the UK charity register, there is no other Radiant Trust in the United Kingdom.
Camuz addressed some of DW's queries but declined to comment on his possible connection to Qatar's royal family. Khalid Al Thani did not respond to questions from DW. The government of Qatar categorically denies the accusations that have emerged in the investigation.
'Culture of impunity'
The Qatargate scandal exposed more than a web of covert financial transactions, backdoor deals and clandestine alliances: It exposed the fact that the European Parliament had few measures to guard against these in the first place. After the scandal was revealed, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola proposed a 14-point package to prevent further corruption and bribery scandals.
"There will be no sweeping under the carpet," Metsola said at the time. "These malign actors linked to autocratic third countries have allegedly weaponized NGOs, unions, individuals, assistants and members of the European Parliament in an effort to subdue our processes," she added. "Their malicious plans failed."
Nicholas Aiossa, deputy director of Transparency International EU, isn't impressed by Metsola's words. He said the European Parliament had been "predictably unambitious" in matters of transparency and that lawmakers generally lacked the will to ensure oversight. "MEPs have been living in a culture of impunity for so long that it's just difficult for them to accept the fact that they need to adopt real reforms," Aiossa said.
"We still find ourselves in a situation where even the initial reforms haven't been adopted," he said. "These were supposed to be quick and easy-to-adopt proposals that were going to feed into a larger reform package."
The anti-corruption draft was scheduled for a vote in July, but that has been postponed to September after parties failed to agree on measures for restricting and reporting contact between MEPs and lobbyists. So, for now, there is still no obligatory record of lobbyists, NGOs or the representatives of interest groups in the Transparency Register.
Over seven months since the Qatargate scandal was revealed there are no new anti-corruption rules in place at the European Parliament at all.
Jack Parrock of DW and Paolo Biondani of L'Espresso contributed to this report.
Edited by: Milan Gagnon and Nancy Isenson.