The European Parliament is preparing to lift on Thursday the immunity of two MEPs targeted by Belgian justice in the alleged corruption scandal for the benefit of Qatar and Morocco, paving the way for their hearing by investigators.
The plenary vote must take place from 10:00 GMT in the Brussels hemicycle.
He should confirm the green light given Tuesday unanimously by the Committee on Legal Affairs of the Parliament to the lifting of immunity of the Belgian Marc Tarabella and the Italian Andrea Cozzolino.
The two elected officials, temporarily excluded from the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group, deny any wrongdoing and do not oppose the lifting of their immunity.
Once confirmed, “everything will be possible, (…) this does not necessarily mean that there will be coercive measures, but justice gives itself all the means to be able to work as for any litigant”explained to AFP Eric Van Duyse, spokesperson for the federal prosecution.
According to the parliamentary report on the lifting of Marc Tarabella’s immunity, written by French MEP Manon Aubry (LFI), “it would emerge (…) from the ongoing investigation that (the latter), over the past two years, is suspected of having supported certain positions within the European Parliament in favor of a third State in exchange for cash rewards”.
The report mentions the testimony against him of the Italian Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former socialist MEP turned NGO leader and who is a central figure in this case, who claimed in December to have paid “between 120,000 and 140,000 euros”on several occasions to Marc Tarabella for his assistance in matters related to Qatar.
Pier Antonio Panzeri, charged and placed in pre-trial detention like three other suspects, concluded an agreement with the justice system in January, undertaking to provide information on the system of corruption in which he admits to having participated, in exchange for a sentence of imprisonment limited to one year.
The home of Mr. Tarabella in the region of Liège (east) had been searched in December, but no cash had been discovered. And the person concerned denies having received “money or gifts in exchange for (his) political opinions”.
“The account is not there”
In this incredible affair, the Belgian investigators got their hands on 1.5 million euros in cash, seized from the homes of Mr. Panzeri and the Greek socialist MEP Eva Kaili, as well as in a suitcase carried by the father of this one.
Like Mr. Panzeri, Ms. Kaili is imprisoned, as are her companion, the Italian Francesco Giorgi, parliamentary assistant, and another Italian, Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, head of an NGO. They are charged with “belonging to a criminal organization”, “money laundering” and “corruption”. Eva Kaili was also stripped of her duties as Vice-President of Parliament in mid-December.
According to the parliamentary report concerning Mr Cozzolino, who until January was chairman of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the Maghreb, the latter “is suspected of having participated in an agreement with other persons which provided for collaboration in order to protect the interests of foreign States in the European Parliament”.
And this “notably by preventing the adoption of parliamentary resolutions which could harm the interests of these States, in exchange for sums of money”.
The scandal, which caused a shock wave in the European Parliament, led the president of the institution, the Maltese Roberta Metsola (EPP, right), to announce reforms.
But for Manon Aubry, rapporteur on the requests for the waiver of immunity of the two elected officials and co-president of the GUE/NGL (radical left) group in Parliament, “the account is not there”.
“Justice is moving forward, it’s a good thing. Now it’s up to the politicians to do their job, and from this point of view, it’s at a standstill”she told AFP, judging Roberta Metsola’s proposals “a thousand miles from the ambition” of a resolution voted in December by MEPs.
“This is not the last time that we will see outside interference, whether by private lobbies or third-party states, in our work, as long as we do not agree to fundamentally reform the way in which our institutions work”she warned, launching “the alert on the sanction that could come from the citizens” in the 2024 European elections.