A second member of the European parliament has been charged with corruption and another arrested as Belgian prosecutors continued their investigation into the “Qatargate” scandal.
Marc Tarabella, a Belgian socialist, was remanded in custody on Saturday after being charged with corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal organisation. He was arrested on Friday, just eight days after parliament lifted his immunity from prosecution.
He denies the charge.
Andrea Cozzolino, an Italian socialist, was arrested at a Naples hospital on Friday night, according to his lawyer. The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office confirmed the arrest and said it was seeking his transfer to Belgium.
Belgian authorities claim that they and others took bribes to shape EU policymaking from Qatar and Morocco.
Cozzolino’s lawyer Dimitri De Beco said his client was undergoing treatment for a heart problem. “Our client is opposed to his transfer to Belgium. We immediately sought and obtained his release. The Naples appeal court confirmed today that there was no reason to deprive our client of his liberty in these conditions,” he said.
He added that his client “has returned home, where he will continue to exercise his rights against these unjustified accusations”.
The Belgian prosecutor said it could not confirm Cozzolino’s release but was still asking for his return to Brussels.
Tarabella is the sixth person to be charged with the same three offences.
Eva Kaili, a Greek socialist MEP who was vice-president of the parliament, remains in detention. So does Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former MEP who ran a human rights charity, and Francesco Giorgi, his former assistant and Kaili’s partner. Niccolò Figà-Talamanca, secretary-general of another human rights group, was released on bail on February 4.
Panzeri’s accountant, Monica Rossana Bellini, was arrested in Milan last month and is awaiting transfer to Belgium.
Panzeri, believed to be the head of the group, has struck a plea bargain and admitted working for foreign countries, the federal prosecutor has said. Giorgi has made a partial confession, according to documents seen by the Financial Times, while Figà-Talamanca, Kaili and Bellini deny wrongdoing.
Figà-Talamanca, secretary-general of No Peace Without Justice, released a statement on Saturday saying he was grateful to be released from prison and would continue his fight for human rights.
“I have worked all my life side-by-side with people unjustly detained and I feel I have had a small taste of what some of them have endured for years,” he said. He thanked supporters who believed in his innocence.
Panzeri’s wife and daughter are under house arrest in Italy.
Police say they found €1.5mn in cash at the homes of Panzeri and Kaili and in a suitcase in the possession of Kaili’s father.
They also searched a safe-deposit box used by Tarabella at a bank in Liège and several offices in the town hall at Anthisnes, in southern Belgium, where Tarabella is mayor, on Friday. Belgian authorities said they believed he had been paid illegally between €120,000 and €140,000 by third countries.
Qatar’s alleged motivation was to blunt resolutions condemning its treatment of migrant workers ahead of the World Cup and secure visa-free travel for its citizens. The Qatari government has denied the accusations.
Morocco allegedly sought support for its claim to sovereignty over the Western Sahara, and deals with the EU over fishing and agricultural product trade. The Moroccan government denied any wrongdoing.