Cyprus Mail

Belgium detains two more EU lawmakers in graft investigation

file photo: eu parliament vote on lifting immunity of two meps in brussels
FILE PHOTO: Belgian lawmaker Marc Tarabella looks on before members of the European Parliament vote on lifting immunity for him and Italian lawmaker Andrea Cozzolino [Source: Reuters]

Belgian prosecutors arrested one lawmaker and took another in for questioning on Friday in connection with a corruption scandal that has hit the European Parliament.

The cash-for-influence scandal began in December when Belgian authorities charged four people linked to the European Parliament over allegations that World Cup host Qatar lavished them with cash and gifts to influence decision-making.

Italian finance police acting on behalf of the Belgian federal prosecutors arrested Italian EU member of parliament (MEP) Andrea Cozzolino at a clinic in Naples where he was undergoing health checks, two sources in Cozzolino’s Democratic Party told Reuters.

The Belgian prosecutors said in a previous statement that they had detained an MEP they identified as “M.T.”, and whom a source close to the case said was Belgian Marc Tarabella.

The arrest and detainment come after the EU parliament last week waived immunity for Cozzolino and Tarabella, both from the centre-left Socialist and Democrats.

Several Italian news agencies reported Cozzolino’s arrest before it was confirmed to Reuters by his party members. The finance police were not available to comment. Two of Cozzolino’s lawyers did not respond to a request for comment.

Through their lawyers, Cozzolino and Tarabella have previously denied wrongdoing and said they are ready to answer questions of Belgian authorities. Qatar has also denied wrongdoing.

Belgian authorities searched Tarabella’s home in Anthisnes in eastern Belgium, the town hall and a safe deposit box at a bank in the nearby city of Liege on Friday.

The judge overseeing the case will decide later on Friday whether Tarabella would face charges, prosecutors said. There was no immediate reaction from Tarabella‘s representatives.

Greek member of the European Parliament Eva Kaili, Italian former member Pier Antonio Panzeri, along with two others, are also in Belgian custody facing charges of corruption and money laundering in relation to alleged payments from Qatar and Morocco.

Panzeri has agreed to work with Belgian authorities in exchange for a reduced sentence. Kaili has denied wrongdoing. Morocco has complained of “judicial harassment” after the graft probe, which has been dubbed “Qatargate”.

Kaili’s partner, Francesco Giorgi, who is also in custody and has confessed to taking bribes, said he suspected Tarabella of receiving money from Qatar, according to a source close to the investigation. Giorgi’s lawyer declined to comment.

Tarabella’s lawyer has said the MEP had visited Qatar twice and had been fully transparent about these trips to construction sites and work camps, with a focus on addressing human and labour rights and freedom of expression.

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