The European Parliament voted today to waive the immunity of four MEPs, two of them in relation to the ongoing Qatargate scandal. The two in question are Andrea Cozzolino from the Italian centre-left Democratic Party, and Marc Tarabella from the Belgian Socialist Party. Both have been members of the social democratic S&D group since they were elected in 2009. The decision of the Parliament comes at the request of the Belgian Federal Prosecutor, who asked on the 2nd of January that they be stripped of their immunity in order to allow investigations to proceed.
Among his other roles in the EU Parliament, Marc Tarabella was the vice chair for the parliamentary delegation to the Arabian Peninsula and coordinator of the parliamentary Sports Group, which he launched and co-chaired in 2020, putting him in the spotlight for questionable stances on last year’s World Cup. Tarabella is previously noted for having made a u-turn with his position on Qatar, which he once criticised for hosting the football championship before changing his tune and praising the country for its labour rights. Tarabella’s lawyer explained this change as a result of ‘realpolitik,’ although an undeclared trip to Qatar, paid for by the allegedly regime-linked National Human Rights Committee, raised serious questions.
According to leaks given to Belgian media, accusations of Tarabella’s guilt in the Qatargate scandal come from Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, who has signed a plea bargain with Belgian authorities, giving all his information on the corruption operation in return for a reduced sentence. Tarabello’s lawyer has said his client is the victim of a witch hunt, and that the leaked accusations from Panzeri and Francesco Giorgi, partner of the former vice-president of the European Parliament Eva Kaili—whose arrest commenced the scandal—will endanger the case.
Andrea Cozzolino had been chair of the parliamentary delegation for relations with Maghreb, i.e. the North African Arab countries including Morocco, which is implicated in the scandal alongside Qatar. The report, which was prepared by Parliament’s legal affairs committee, stated that he is suspected of “protecting the interests of foreign states in the European Parliament, not least by impeding the adoption of parliamentary resolutions that might damage the interests of those states, in exchange for sums of money.”
Cozzolino defended himself in a closed hearing of the Legal Committee, and, speaking to Italian media, his lawyers denied any wrongdoing, stating that he was the victim of “a violent media campaign.” Nonetheless, the reports which called for the waiving of immunity for both him and Tarabella were passed unanimously by the Legal Affairs Committee.
Today, this waiving of immunity was confirmed by Parliament, meaning that the next move is in the court of the Belgian prosecution.