Voting by a show of hands, MEPs gathered in Brussels gave the green light to lifting the immunity of Belgian Marc Tarabella and Italian Andrea Cozzolino. The two elected officials, temporarily excluded from the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group, deny any wrongdoing. Marc Tarabella, present in the hemicycle, voted for the lifting of his own immunity. “It is to justice that I will deliver information on the questions that (the investigators) will want to ask me. I want justice to do its job,” said the Belgian MEP when he left.
Hundreds of thousands of euros donated
From now on, “everything will be possible, (…) this does not necessarily mean that there will be coercive measures, but justice is giving itself all the means to be able to work as for any litigant”, explained to the AFP Eric Van Duyse, spokesperson for the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office.
According to the parliamentary report on the lifting of the immunity of Marc Tarabella, written by the French MEP Manon Aubry (LFI), “it would emerge (…) from the current investigation that (the latter), during the last 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 who has become a leader of an NGO and who is a central figure in this affair, 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 Marc 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 case, the Belgian investigators got their hands on 1.5 million euros in cash, seized from the homes of Pier Antonio Panzeri and the Greek socialist MEP Eva Kaili, as well as in a suitcase carried by the father of this one.
Like Pier Antonio Panzeri, Eva Kaili is imprisoned, as is 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 president of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the Maghreb, the latter “is suspected of having participated in an agreement with other people which provided for a collaboration in order to protect the interests of foreign states in the European Parliament”. And this “in particular by preventing the adoption of parliamentary resolutions which could harm the interests of these States, in exchange for sums of money”.
Shock wave in Parliament
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 group (radical left) 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 leagues from the ambition” of a resolution voted in December by MEPs.
“This is not the last time that we will see outside interference, whether from private lobbies or third countries, in our work, as long as we do not agree to an in-depth reform of the way which our institutions operate”, she warned, launching “the alert on the sanction which could come from the citizens” in the European elections of 2024.