BRUSSELS: The European Parliament on Thursday lifted the immunity of two lawmakers targeted in a Belgian probe into suspected bribery linked to Qatar and Morocco.
The vote stripping Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella and Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino of their protection from prosecution followed a demand by Belgian authorities, who have four people in custody as part of their probe. Tarabella attended the parliament session and voted in favour of his immunity being lifted.
He told journalists afterwards: “I´m happy my parliamentary immunity has been lifted. I remind you that I´m innocent in this affair.” He said he looked forward to “justice running its course”.
Cozzolino also previously declared his innocence, while Qatar and Morocco deny any wrongdoing in the case. The lifting of parliamentary immunity opens the way for Belgian investigators to question the two MEPs to further the probe.
The Belgian probe into bribery, money-laundering and criminal organisation saw police raid several addresses in December — including those of European Parliament lawmakers, ex-lawmakers and parliamentary aides — that turned up 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million in cash).
Those detained and charged include Greek MEP Eva Kaili, who was one of the parliament´s 14 vice presidents but who has since been stripped of that position.
The other three are her boyfriend, 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.
Belgium suspects them of involvement in a bribery scheme in which Qatar and Morocco allegedly funnelled money through NGOs to influence decisions by the European Parliament. The allegations have badly shaken the legislature and cast a shadow over other EU institutions in Brussels.
Tarabella´s home was among those searched in the December raids. Kaili has insisted on her innocence, while Giorgi reportedly has partly confessed. Panzeri struck a plea bargain with prosecutors to turn over evidence of bribes made and the individuals involved in return for a lighter sentence.