Prosecutors on Saturday (11 February) charged a Belgian lawmaker in the European parliament with corruption after searching his bank safe as part of a probe into a bribery scandal linked to Qatar that has rocked the EU.
The Socialist deputy Marc Tarabella, 59, was detained by police on Friday after Belgium’s federal prosecutors said raids were carried out targeting his safe in the city of Liege and offices in the town hall of Anthisnes, where he is mayor.
Eric van der Sijpt, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, told AFP Tarabella had been indicted on charges of corruption, money laundering and for “participating in a criminal organisation”, as part of the Belgian investigation into suspected bribery linked to Qatar and Morocco.
The so-called Qatargate scandal has sent shockwaves through the EU’s institutions and caused the parliament to hastily seek reforms looking to curb outside influence.
The parliament last week voted to lift Tarabella’s immunity from prosecution, and that of Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino, following a request by Belgian investigators.
Suspected of helping Morocco to weigh in on European parliament decisions, Cozzolino was arrested in Italy on an international warrant on Friday, van der Sijpt said.
Both have insisted they are innocent, and Tarabella has said he was looking forward to the chance to clear his name.
Authorities in Qatar and Morocco have denied any involvement in the case.
Belgium authorities already have three suspects in custody after launching raids on several addresses in December — including those of lawmakers, ex-lawmakers and parliamentary aides — that turned up 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in cash.
‘No money, no gifts’
Those detained and charged with corruption, money laundering and criminal organisation, include a Greek MEP, Eva Kaili, who was one of the parliament’s 14 vice presidents but who has since been stripped of that position.
The other two are her boyfriend, Francesco Giorgi, who was a parliamentary aide, and former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, who founded an NGO that dealt with the parliament.
Panzeri cut a deal with prosecutors last month in return for a lighter sentence, promising to spill the beans on the countries that gave the alleged bribes and people he paid off.
Belgian media has reported that Panzeri told investigators he gave Tarabella “between 120,000 and 140,000 euros” for his help in handling matters linked to Gulf state Qatar.
Tarabella’s lawyer Maxim Toller accused Panzeri of “defamation” on Saturday, saying his client had again denied receiving money or gifts in the case.
“You only need defamation from one person, known as the head of a criminal organisation, to set off such a tsunami and tarnish (someone) unfairly,” Toller said in a statement.
Tarabella will appear in court again by Thursday, the federal prosecution said.