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WORLD

EU Parliament Starts Process to Lift 2 Lawmakers’ Immunity

BRUSSELS — The president of the European Parliament has launched an urgent procedure to waive the immunity of two lawmakers following a request from Belgian judicial authorities investigating a major corruption scandal rocking EU politics.

The European Parliament said Monday that President Roberta Metsola asked all services and committees to give the procedure priority, with the goal to have it finished by Feb. 13.

“From the very first moment the European Parliament has done everything in its power to assist in investigations and we will continue to make sure that there will be no impunity,” Metsola said. “Those responsible will find this Parliament on the side of the law. Corruption cannot pay and we will do everything to fight it.”

The EU Parliament press service did not identify the two MEPs. According to two people familiar with the case who were not allowed to speak publicly because the investigation is ongoing, they are Italian Andrea Cozzolino and Belgian Marc Tarabella.

The two did not immediately respond to queries asking for comments.

Tarabella, whose home was raided last month, and Cozzolino have denied wrongdoing and self-suspended their membership of the Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats group (S&D).

Cozzolino had previously said he was ready to abandon his parliamentary immunity so that he would be able to answer questions from authorities.

“When it comes to the request to lift their immunity the S&D group would follow, in the context of the European Parliament, the procedures foreseen in a responsible and constructive manner,” the Socialists and Democrats said.

A third member of Parliament, Eva Kaili, has already been charged in relation with the scandal, which allegedly involves Qatari and Moroccan officials suspected of influencing economic and political decisions with gifts and money.

Prosecutors accuse Kaili of corruption, membership in a criminal organization and money laundering. A Greek socialist MEP, Kaili has been in custody since Dec. 9. Her partner, Francesco Giorgi, an adviser at the European Parliament, is jailed on the same charges.

Kaili was relieved of her duties of parliament Vice-President after being charged. She would have normally enjoyed immunity from prosecution but was brought before a judge after Belgian police launched raids on premises across Brussels last month and large sums of cash were reportedly found at her home.

Kaili and Giorgi are suspected of working with Giorgi’s one-time boss, Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former EU lawmaker. According to arrest warrants, Panzeri “is suspected of intervening politically with members working at the European Parliament for the benefit of Qatar and Morocco, against payment.”

The Parliament has halted work on files involving Qatar as it investigates what impact the cash-and-gifts-for-influence bribery scandal might have had. Qatar vehemently denies involvement and Morocco has yet to respond to allegations that its ambassador to Poland might have been involved.

Belgian prosecutors are also seeking the handover of Panzeri’s wife and daughter from Italy, where they were put under house arrest on similar charges.

A fourth suspect in Belgium — Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, secretary-general of the non-governmental organization No Peace Without Justice — was also charged and jailed over the affair.

The scandal came to public attention after police launched more than 20 raids, mostly in Belgium but also in Italy. Hundreds of thousands of euros were found at a home and in a suitcase at a hotel in Brussels. Mobile phones and computer equipment and data were seized.

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