Belgian prosecutor to lift immunity of two more MPs in

Belgian prosecutor to lift immunity of two more MPs in corruption investigation

Belgian prosecutors have asked the European Parliament to lift the legal immunity of two more of its members as the Qatargate corruption scandal continues to unfold.

Authorities did not name the suspects, but people with knowledge of the case said the couple were Social Democrat MPs Andrea Cozzolino and Marc Tarabella.

Cozzolino’s Belgian lawyer declined to comment on Monday. Tarabella did not respond to a request for comment. His lawyer Maxim Toller told the Belga news agency on Monday that his client supports the lifting of his immunity to defend himself against the allegations. Both MPs denied wrongdoing last month after their names were linked to the inquiry.

Countries like Qatar and Morocco have tried to influence EU policy by providing lawmakers and staff with expensive vacations and other gifts, according to legal documents presented to the Financial Times. €1.5 million in cash was confiscated in a series of police raids in early December.

MPs can only be prosecuted in Belgium if they are caught committing a crime or if Parliament lifts their immunity.

A MEP, Eva Kaili, also a Socialist, is being held in custody on charges of corruption, money laundering and involvement in a criminal enterprise. Three others are also charged, including Francesco Giorgi, an Italian married to Kaili who works for Cozzolino. Giorgi’s former boss, ex-MP Pier Antonio Panzeri, now head of the human rights NGO Fight Impunity, is also being charged. According to local media reports, confirmed by the FT, Giorgi has confessed to prosecutors that he was handling cash for Panzeri’s alleged plan.

Niccolò Figà-Talamanca, who headed another human rights group registered at the same address as Panzeri’s, was also charged. He, Kaili and Panzeri deny wrongdoing.

Parliament President Roberta Metsola said Monday she will ensure MPs decide swiftly whether to agree to the lifting of immunity.

“From the outset, the European Parliament has done everything in its power to assist investigations and we will continue to ensure that there is no impunity. Those responsible find this parliament on the side of the law. Corruption does not pay off and we will do everything we can to fight it,” she said.

The motions must be discussed by Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee in a closed session. The committee then makes a recommendation for Parliament as a whole to accept or reject the motion. Metsola said she hopes Parliament will vote by February 13.

Italian MPs Cozzolino and Panzeri were often pictured together at events and he attended meetings of Fight Impunity, Panzeri’s NGO, according to their website.

Cozzolino also succeeded Panzeri as chairman of the parliamentary delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries and made trips to Morocco. In December he suspended himself from the centre-left Socialists and Democrats in Parliament.

Cozzolino told Belgian daily Le Soir on December 21: “I have absolutely never been involved in any acts of corruption, but I remain available to the Belgian judicial system to be heard as soon as possible to help establish the truth”.

Tarabella’s home and his assistant’s office were raided by police in early December. The S&D group has suspended his membership.