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EU lawmakers back lifting MEPs’ immunity in graft probe


Brussels (AFP) – A key European Parliament committee on Tuesday unanimously backed lifting the immunity of two lawmakers implicated in a corruption scandal that has rocked the EU.

Prosecutors in Belgium have urged legislators to strip Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella and Italian lawmaker Andrea Cozzoli of their immunity as part of a probe into alleged bribery by Qatar and Morocco.

The parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs voted 23 to zero to take the move — paving the way for the entire plenary to decide the issue in a vote on Thursday.

Belgium authorities already have four other suspects in custody after launching raids on several addresses in December — including those of lawmakers, ex-lawmakers and parliamentary aides — that turned up 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million in cash).

Those detained, and charged with corruption, money-laundering and criminal organisation, include a 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 funnelled money through NGOs to influence decisions by the European Parliament.

Both Qatar and Morocco deny any wrongdoing.

The allegations have badly shaken the legislature and cast a shadow over other EU institutions in Brussels.

“Justice is advancing,” tweeted left-wing committee member Manon Aubry after the parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee vote.

Tarabella’s home was among those searched in the December raids. Belgian investigators demanded the parliament strip him and Cozzolino of immunity so they can further their probe.

Both insist they are innocent, as does Kaili.

Giorgi reportedly has partly confessed, however.

And Panzeri has struck a plea bargain with prosecutors to turn over evidence of bribes made and the figures involved in return for a lighter sentence.

Source: france24