European Parliament session on Wednesday, January 18, 2023 in Strasbourg, France. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union parliament on Thursday revoked the immunity of two lawmakers linked to one of the biggest corruption scandals in the bloc’s history, paving the way for them to be questioned by Belgian investigators.
In a vote by show of hands, the European Parliament overwhelmingly approved the suspension of parliamentary immunity for Belgian Marc Tarabella and Italian Andrea Cozzolino. Both MEPs had said, through their lawyers, that they were ready to cooperate with the Belgian authorities.
Images broadcast live on television showed how Tarabella voted in favor of the proposal.
The two have denied any connection to the scandal in which Qatari and Moroccan officials are suspected of offering bribes to influence decisions in the European Parliament. Qatar and Morocco have vehemently denied their involvement, but the chamber has stopped working on all files related to the emirate.
According to the report prepared to allow Taraballa’s immunity to be withdrawn, a Belgian investigation shows that “he could have been involved in acts of corruption related to interference by one or more foreign states to influence the debates and decisions adopted by the European Parliament.” .
The “testimony against him suggests that such payments were made to him on several occasions, for a total amount of between” 120,000 and 140,000 euros (between 132,000 and 154,000 dollars), added the document.
According to the report on Cozzolino, the Italian MEP “is suspected of having participated, from 2019 onwards, in an agreement with other persons to cooperate in the protection of the interests of foreign states in the European Parliament.”
This would have been achieved, at least in part, “by preventing the adoption of parliamentary resolutions that could harm the interests of those states, in exchange for sums of money,” the document explained.
Tarabella and Cozzolino are part of the center-left group Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the second largest in the chamber and the most affected by accusations of alleged corruption.
The scandal came to light in early December after authorities conducted a series of raids in Brussels and Italy and seized hundreds of thousands of euros.
Four people are accused of corruption, money laundering and belonging to a criminal organization: S&D lawmaker Eva Kaili, who until then served as vice president of the chamber; her partner and her parliamentary assistant Francesco Giorgi; former S&D deputy Pier Antonio Panzeri and NGO director Niccolo Figa-Talamanca.
Panzeri has reached an agreement with the Belgian prosecutor’s office to become an informer. He promised to reveal the names of those involved and how the money moved in exchange for a lighter sentence.
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