Home News The European Union Committee votes to lift the immunity of two members of the European Parliament in the “Qatargate” investigation

The European Union Committee votes to lift the immunity of two members of the European Parliament in the “Qatargate” investigation

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A European parliamentary committee voted to lift the immunity of two members of the European Parliament after a request from the Belgian authorities to investigate the bribery and corruption scandal that rocked the Council of the European Union.

Members of the European Parliament in the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday, with one non-absentee vote, to waive the immunity of Belgium’s Marc Tarabella and Italy’s Andrea Cozzolino.

The European Parliament is expected to broadly endorse the committee’s view in a vote on Thursday, formally ending immunity from prosecution for both MEPs.

The request to lift the immunity comes from the Belgian authorities, who have charged four people with corruption, money laundering and membership in a criminal organization in connection with alleged payments from Qatar. The four – former Italian MP Pier Antonio Panzieri, Greek MP Eva Kaili, his Italian aide in the European Parliament Francesco Giorgi, and the head of a Brussels-based NGO, Nicolo Vega Talamanca – have been locked up.

Like Tarabella and Cozzolino, Panziri and Cayley were members of the European Parliament’s Group of Socialists and Democrats. The three deputies were expelled from the bloc.

Kylie automatically lost her immunity, as prosecutors thought they caught her in the act. Under Belgian law, MEPs do not have immunity from prosecution if they are suspected of having committed a crime.

Police seized around €150,000 (£130,000) from a Brussels flat where she was living with fellow suspect Gyorgy. On the same day, Kylie’s father was arrested for attempting to leave a Brussels hotel with €750,000 stashed in the luggage, though he was later released without charge.

Andrea Cozzolino declared his “total innocence”. Photo: John Tice/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this month, Panziri signed an agreement with the Public Prosecution Office agreeing to provide evidence in exchange for a reduced prison sentence. According to investigative leaks in the Belgian press, Panziri said that he had paid 120,000 euros to Trabella.

Kylie, Tarabella and Cozzolino have denied all charges of wrongdoing. Giorgi’s lawyer declined to comment, while Vega Talamanca’s family has vehemently denied all accusations of wrongdoing on his behalf.

Police searched Tarabella’s home in Brussels last month, but he was not charged.

In a leaked letter to the committee, Tarabella said he would welcome waiver of his immunity “fully aware of the potential consequences” so he could defend his name. And he declared that he had never received money or gifts for his political views, writing: “Public opinion judges me or some of my colleagues on the basis of newspaper articles or self-confessions of imprisoned persons who have apparently changed over time, unlike my position.”

Through his attorney, Cozzolino declared his “total innocence”, describing the request for waiver of immunity as being based on an “investigative hypothesis”.

Cozzolino appeared before the Legal Affairs Committee earlier this month to defend himself, but Tarabella waived his right to do so.

Manon Aubry, the French radical outgoing MEP tasked with preparing formal proposals for waiver of immunity, told Belgian French-speaking radio RTBF that she hoped the waiver of immunity would shed light on the scandal “because so far we only have the tip of the iceberg”. “There are missing pieces of the puzzle and I hope this waiver of immunity helps provide the other pieces of the puzzle,” she said.

Qatar has also denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

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