Belgium asks the European Parliament to lift the immunity of MEPs Tarabella, Cozzolino – POLITICO
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Belgian investigators have asked the European Parliament to lift the immunity of two other MPs suspected of wrongdoing in a sprawling corruption scandal linked to alleged bribes by Qatar and Morocco.
Socialist and Democrat lawmakers Marc Tarabella, a Belgian MEP, and Andrea Cozzolino, an Italian, are now targeted, according to an EU official familiar with the matter, as well as an insider from the S&D group in parliament. Both spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to compromise the legal proceedings. The Belgian prosecutor declined to comment.
Parliament pledged to crack down on corruption and illicit lobbying, deciding in December to set up a special commission to conduct a parallel investigation led by Belgian prosecutor Michel Claise. “There will be no impunity. None,” wrote European Parliament President Roberta Metsola on Twitter.
It was a nod to the NGO Fight Impunity, which former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri set up in 2019 with his former assistant Francesco Giorgi, who has worked as Cozzolino’s assistant since 2019.
The immunity of Giorgi’s partner, Eva Kaili, formerly one of the 14 vice-presidents of parliament, was automatically lifted because she was considered caught in the act. The Belgian prosecutor also found €150,000 in cash in his Brussels apartment after the scandal broke on December 9. The Belgian authorities then arrested her and seized bags of cash in Brussels.
MEPs sacked Kaili as vice-president last month and, along with Giorgi, former MEP Panzeri and NGO boss Niccolò Figà-Talamanca, she now faces preliminary charges of corruption, money laundering money and participation in a criminal organization.
Parliament will officially launch the long process of removing Tarabella and Cozzolino from legal protection at the next meeting of MEPs in Strasbourg on January 16. At that time, Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee will give the two MPs a chance to speak and approve the measure before handing it back to the full body of lawmakers for a final vote, which is likely to be a majority. overwhelming.
The Socialists and Democrats Group in Parliament said in a statement to POLITICO that its members would “follow, within the framework of the European Parliament, the procedures laid down in a responsible and constructive manner”.
In a separate statement shared with POLITICO, Tarabella’s lawyer, Maxim Töller, said the MEP would support lifting his immunity. “Since the start of this investigation, Marc Tarabella has repeated that he was at the disposal of justice and even asked to be questioned quickly in order to defend himself. He also said he would not hide behind his parliamentary immunity,” they wrote.
Metsola was present during a search by Belgian police of Tarabella’s home on December 10, looking for potentially incriminating material.
Tarabella claimed her innocence. He is vice-president of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the Arabian Peninsula and co-president of the institution’s sports group – an important role in the preparation of the organization of the FIFA World Cup by Qatar. last year.
Cozzolino has publicly called for his immunity to be waived and has also denied any wrongdoing.
Since the scandal broke, Cozzolino has temporarily resigned from chairing a delegation for relations with Maghreb countries and has also stepped down from his role as coordinator of his group for drafting resolutions on human rights violations. rights outside the EU. As of press time, he had not responded to POLITICO’s requests for comment.
“President Metsola will also set out her intentions for reforms in the coming weeks, including an overhaul of current rules and improving internal systems, including enforcement,” Parliament said in a press release. Metsola wants the immunity waiver to be completed by mid-February.
Pieter Haeck contributed reporting.