As the Qatargate scandal thickens, a further two Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have been stripped of their immunity, following a vote in the plenary in Brussels.
On Thursday, Andrea Cozzolino and Marc Tarabella had their parliamentary immunities removed following a request made by the Belgian Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office on January 16.
Both MEPs deny allegations that they were involved in any corruption. The scandal was unleashed in December last year when it was alleged that Qatar and Morocco had been bribing MEPs and senior officials to buy influence within the EU.
Two more MEPs embroiled in Qatargate
Thus far, four individuals have been arrested and charged in connection with the Qatargate scandal. They are Greek MEP Eva Kaili, her life partner Francesco Giorgi, former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, and NGO director Niccolò Figà-Talamanca.
Now, two further MEPs have been stripped of their parliamentary immunity and may soon face charges associated with the Qatargate scandal. Parliamentary immunity ensures that MEPs cannot be “subject to any form of inquiry, detention or legal proceedings because of opinions expressed or votes cast in their capacity as an MEP.” However, immunity can be removed following a successful request made by a national authority.
Antonio Panzeri was formerly the head of the EU-Morocco parliamentary committee before he was succeeded by Andrea Cozzolino. According to a confidential document seen by Euronews, Panzeri implicated himself and Cozzolino during hearings after his arrest in December.
Panzeri reportedly told the judge that Cozzolino was bribed to try and squash resolutions against Morroco. Meanwhile, Marc Tarabella, the vice chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the Arab peninsula, was allegedly given bribes between €120,000 and €140,000 to support Qatar on various issues.
Tarabella, who attended the plenary vote, greeted the decision to remove his immunity as an opportunity to clear his name.
“I have been asking for the lifting of this immunity since the very first days of this affair in order to be able to answer the questions of the investigators and to help the justice system to shed light on this case,” Tarabella told members of the press after the vote.
“Of course, I deny any wrong,” he added. When asked if he had ever accepted bribes to influence proceedings in the European Parliament he answered: “Never in my life!”
Cozzolino’s lawyers stated last month that their client was innocent and that he was not guilty of any wrongdoing. They stressed that he conducted his political duties in a “free and transparent way, having nothing to do with the crimes being investigated”.
Nevertheless, Cozzolino resigned from his position as vice chair of the delegation to the Arab Peninsula last month.