Belgium detains another MEP in ‘Qatargate’ investigation

Belgium detains another MEP in ‘Qatargate’ investigation

Belgian prosecutors investigating a corruption scandal that has hit the European Parliament carried out new searches on Friday and took in for questioning a lawmaker whose immunity from prosecution was waived last week.

Federal prosecutors said in a statement that an EU member of parliament (MEP) it identified as “M.T.,” and whom a source close to the case said was Marc Tarabella, was detained early on Friday.

Belgian authorities carried out searches at Tarabella’s home in Anthisnes in eastern Belgium, at the town hall where he serves as mayor, and of a safe deposit box at a bank in the nearby city of Liege.

The judge overseeing the case would decide later on Friday whether Tarabella would face possible charges, prosecutors said. There was no immediate reaction from representatives of Tarabella, who denies wrongdoing.

Greek MEP Eva Kaili, Italian former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, along with two others, are in Belgian custody facing charges of corruption and money laundering in relation to alleged payments from Qatar and Morocco.

Panzeri has agreed to work with Belgian authorities in exchange for a reduced sentence. Qatar and Kaili have denied wrongdoing. Morocco has complained of “judicial harassment” after the graft probe, which has been dubbed “Qatargate.”

Kaili’s partner, Francesco Giorgi, who is also in custody and has confessed to taking bribes, said he suspected Tarabella of receiving money from Qatar, according to a source close to the investigation. Giorgi’s lawyer declined to comment.

Tarabella’s lawyer has said the MEP had visited Qatar twice and had been fully transparent about these trips to construction sites and work camps, with a focus on addressing human and labor rights and freedom of expression.

The European Parliament last week waived the immunity of Tarabella and Italian Andrea Cozzolino, both of the center-left Socialist and Democrats. Through their lawyers, both have denied wrongdoing and said they are ready to answer questions of Belgian authorities.

According to the report compiled to lift Taraballa’s immunity, a Belgian investigation showed 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.

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. [Reuters, AP]

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