By LORNE COOK
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s parliament on Thursday removed the protective immunity of two lawmakers linked to one of the bloc’s biggest-ever corruption scandals, paving the way for them to be questioned by Belgian investigators.
In a show of hands, the assembly voted overwhelmingly to lift the parliamentary immunity of Belgian lawmaker Marc Tarabella and Italian Andrea Cozzolino. Both men previously said, through their lawyers, that they are willing to cooperate with the Belgian authorities.
Live television images showed that Tarabella voted in favor of having his own immunity lifted.
The two have denied any links to the scandal, in which Qatari and Moroccan officials are suspected of offering bribes to influence decisions at the European Parliament. Qatar and Morocco have also vehemently denied involvement, but the assembly has suspended work on all Qatar-related files.
According to the report prepared to allow Taraballa’s immunity to be lifted, a Belgian investigation shows that he “may have been involved in acts of corruption connected with interference by one or more foreign states aimed at influencing the debates and decisions taken in the European Parliament.”
It said that “testimony against him suggests that such payments were made to him on several occasions, amounting to a total of between” 120,000 and 140,000 euros ($132,00 and $154,000).
The Cozzolino report said that the Italian EU lawmaker “is suspected of having, from 2019 onwards, participated in an agreement with other persons to cooperate in protecting the interests of foreign states in the European Parliament.”
This was apparently done, at least in part, “by impeding the adoption of parliamentary resolutions that might damage the interests of those states, in exchange for sums of money,” the report said.
Tarabella and Cozzolino are from the center-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) — the second-biggest political group in the assembly and which has been hardest hit by the corruption allegations.
The scandal came to light in early December after authorities launched a series of raids across Brussels, and in Italy, seizing hundreds of thousands of euros.
Four people were charged with corruption, money laundering and membership in a criminal organization. They are S&D lawmaker Eva Kaili, who was an assembly vice president until the charges came to light; her partner and parliamentary assistant Francesco Giorgi; former S&D lawmaker Pier Antonio Panzeri, and the head of a charity group, Niccolo Figa-Talamanca.
Panzeri has since reached an agreement with Belgian prosecutors to act as an informant. He has promised to reveal the names of those involved and how money might have been moved around, in exchange for a lighter sentence.
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