Belgian prosecutors have asked the European parliament to lift the legal immunity of another two of its members as the Qatargate corruption scandal continues to spread.
Authorities did not name the suspects but people with knowledge of the procedure said the pair were Socialist MEPs Andrea Cozzolino and Marc Tarabella.
Cozzolino’s Belgian lawyer declined to comment on Monday. Tarabella did not respond to a request to comment. His lawyer Maxim Toller told the Belga press agency on Monday that his client supported the removal of his immunity to defend himself from the accusations. Both parliamentarians denied wrongdoing last month after their names were linked with the inquiry.
Countries such as Qatar and Morocco sought to influence EU policy by providing legislators and staff with expensive holidays and other gifts, according to legal documents seen by the Financial Times. A series of police raids in early December recovered €1.5mn in cash.
MEPs can only be prosecuted in Belgium if they are caught while committing criminal acts or parliament lifts their immunity.
One MEP, Eva Kaili, also a Socialist, is in custody awaiting trial for corruption, money laundering and membership of 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-MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, now head of human rights NGO Fight Impunity, is also charged. Giorgi has confessed to prosecutors that he handled cash for Panzeri’s alleged scheme, according to local media reports verified by the FT.
Niccolò Figà-Talamanca, who ran a different human rights group registered at the same address as Panzeri’s, has also been charged. He, Kaili and Panzeri deny wrongdoing.
Roberta Metsola, president of the parliament, on Monday said she would ensure MEPs moved swiftly to decide whether to comply with the lifting of the immunity.
“From the very first moment the European parliament has done everything in its power to assist in investigations and we will continue to make sure that there will be no impunity. Those responsible will find this parliament on the side of the law. Corruption cannot pay and we will do everything to fight it,” she said.
The requests must be discussed by the parliament’s legal affairs committee in a private meeting. The committee then makes a recommendation for the whole parliament to approve or reject the request. Metsola said she hoped parliament would vote by February 13.
Both Italian MEPs, Cozzolino and Panzeri were often pictured together at events and he participated in meetings of Fight Impunity, Panzeri’s NGO, according to its website.
Cozzolino also succeeded Panzeri as the chair of the Parliamentary Delegation for Relations with Maghreb Countries, making trips to Morocco. He suspended himself from the Socialists and Democrats centre left group in the parliament in December.
Cozzolino told Belgian daily Le Soir on December 21: “I have absolutely never been involved in acts of corruption, but I am at the disposal of the Belgian judicial system to be heard as soon as possible in order to contribute to the establishment of the truth”.
Tarabella’s home and the office of his assistant were searched by police in early December. The S&D group has suspended his membership.