Berlin (CNSNews.com) – Two more members of European parliament could lose their diplomatic immunity status as investigations into the “Qatargate” cash-for-favors corruption scandal continue.
A series of raids by Belgian police last month uncovered around 1.5 million euros in cash in the homes of Greek socialist MEP Eva Kaili and Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former Italian socialist MEP, prompting allegations that Qatar and Morocco had paid bribes and gifts to influence economic and policy decisions in Brussels.
Kaili has already been charged with corruption, membership in a criminal organization, and money laundering.
This week European Parliament president Roberta Metsola announced the launch of an “urgent procedure” to waive immunity of two further MEPs.
Although Metsola did not name the two, speculation is rife that the two suspects are Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino and Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella. (A statement by MEPs from Italy’s Democratic Party identified them explicitly, saying the party “will vote in favor of revoking the immunity of MEPs Andrea Cozzolino and Marc Tarabella.”)
Kaili, Cozzolino, and Tarabella are all members of the European Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats group (S&D).
Kaili was one of the parliament’s 14 vice-presidents but MEPs voted to strip her of that position.
Cozzolino has temporarily stood down from chairing a delegation for relations with Maghreb countries, and also self-suspended his S&D membership.
Tarabella’s home was among those raided by authorities last month. Police seized computer equipment but did not arrest him. Tarabella is vice chair of the parliament’s delegation for relations with the Arabian Peninsula.
The MEPs all deny any wrongdoing.
Metsola’s decision to seek a lifting of immunity for two more MEPs came shortly after Greece’s anti-money laundering authority asked authorities in Panama to verify whether 20 million euros had been transferred from Qatar to an account in Panama, opened by Kaili or members of her family.
The move was prompted by social media posts circulating last week purportedly showing Panamanian banking documents linked to Kaili and family members, receiving deposits originating from Qatar.
Alex Aguis Salbia, an MEP from Malta, said Tuesday the scandal has dealt a crippling blow to the parliament’s credibility, but was only the tip of the iceberg.
“The ‘Qatargate’ scandal is already about more than just ‘Qatar’,” Salbia told MaltaToday. “Not only are there more countries involved; but what is beginning to emerge, is the picture of a widespread corrupt practice that was more or less ‘systematic’.”
“Unfortunately, we are not talking only about ‘one rotten apple’ here,” he said. “What we are looking at amounts to an entire web of corruption.”
Salbia noted that shortly after the Qatargate scandal broke out, a separate investigation had began into alleged bribes paid by Bahrain, “a country which has a human rights record that is just as bad as (if not worse than) Qatar’s.”
Meetings of E.U. officials and lawmakers with businesses and lobbies such as trade unions and religious organizations must be logged in the E.U. Transparency Register, but no such requirement exists for representatives of foreign states like Qatar.
While the scandal has prompted calls for an independent ethics body, some MEPs are critical of the parliament’s response, which has included a suspension of work on all legislation relating to Qatar.
On Tuesday Andrus Ansip and Urmas Paet, two Estonian MEPs, called criticisms of Qatar “disproportionate” and rejected claims that Doha has been influencing parliamentary decision-making.
The two had earlier opposed a resolution criticizing Qatar’s human rights record ahead of its controversial hosting of the soccer World Cup late last year.
Defending that decision, Ansip and Paet told Estonia’s broadcaster ERR that criticizing Qatar’s human rights record appeared to be “hypocritical,” given that Russia had hosted the World Cup in 2018 and China hosted the Winter Olympics last year.
The scandal comes at a difficult time for Europe, which views Qatar as an attractive alternative to Russia as a supplier of natural gas in the wake of the Ukraine war. The Gulf nation is a major LNG exporter, holding over 900 trillion cubic feet of gas in its North Field reserves.
Doha has vehemently denied allegations of corruption, warning that the European response would negatively impact energy discussions.
Meanwhile the government of Morocco has not formally responded to the scandal. The topic may be on the table when E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell visits the North African nation on Thursday.
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