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EU parliament strips two MEPs of parliamentary immunity in graft probe

Euro-deputies vote a request for waiver of the immunity of MEPs Marc Tarabella of Belgium and Italian Andrea Cozzolino as part of a probe into alleged bribery by Qatar and Morocco during a session at EU Parliament in Brussels, February 2, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

The European Parliament has lifted immunity for two legislators targeted in a Belgian probe into suspected bribery.

Endorsing a proposal adopted by the European Parliament's Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI), the MEPs voted in favor of lifting immunity of Italian Andrea Cozzolino and Belgian Marc Tarabella by show of hands on Thursday.

The move paves the way for Belgian prosecutors to interrogate the pair about their purported involvement in suspected bribery linked to Qatar and Morocco, a corruption scandal that has shaken the legislature to its core.

It is the latest twist in the unfolding scandal over allegations that Qatar and Morocco, among others, might have illegally influenced the Parliament’s work.  Qatar and Morocco have already denied any wrongdoing in the case.

Tarabella was present at the session on Thursday and voted in favor of his immunity being lifted, insisting that he is "innocent in this affair." Cozzolino did not attend the session but previously declared his innocence.

Both legislators are members of the Socialists & Democrats group.

The two MEPs are under suspicion of serious offenses that could be tantamount to corruption, money laundering and participating in a criminal organization.

Members of the European Parliament enjoy immunity, meaning that they cannot be prosecuted while serving as lawmakers. The process of lifting that protection takes several weeks, involving many steps. 

Belgian authorities have already four people in custody as part of their investigation, including MEP Eva Kaili, who was removed over Qatar graft scandal, known as Qatargate, on December 13.

Originally from Greece, and a member of the European Parliament since 2014, Kaili was one of 14 vice presidents in the assembly.

The other three are her partner, Francesco Giorgi, who was a parliamentary aide, former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, who founded an NGO that dealt with the parliament, and Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, the head of another NGO at the same address at Panzeri's. The three are Italian.

In December, police raided numerous buildings in Brussels, including parliament offices and almost two dozen homes, in relation to the case, discovering around 1.5 million euros (1.6 million dollars), some of it reportedly stashed in a suitcase in a hotel room.

The energy-rich Persian Gulf state of Qatar, which hosted the FIFA World Cup last year, has “categorically” denied any wrongdoing. The small Persian Gulf country had been hoping its diplomatic outreach, and the glow of hosting the World Cup, would obtain EU visa facilitations for its people.

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