Expatica news

Belgian MEP implicated in graft scandal slams accusations

A Belgian member of the European Parliament, targeted by prosecutors in a graft scandal rocking the EU, has insisted on his innocence and denounced accusations by a key suspect, a statement seen by AFP on Thursday said.

MEP Marc Tarabella is in the crosshairs of Belgian prosecutors, who have asked for his parliamentary immunity to be lifted after raiding his residence last month.

The lawmaker was excluded on Wednesday by the Socialist and Democrats political grouping in the European Parliament and by his party in Belgium, pending the investigation.

Belgium’s Echo newspaper reported that Italian former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, one of four suspects currently detained in the probe over alleged bribes by Qatar and Morocco, told investigators that he had given Tarabella “between 120,000 and 140,000 euros”.

“I still have not had the right to defend myself. I claim and will continue to claim my innocence. I have never received any money or gifts in exchange for my political opinions,” Tarabella said in a letter to the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee.

“I am judged by public opinion or by some of my colleagues on the basis of press articles or self-serving confessions by people in prison, confessions that have apparently changed over time, contrary to my position,” he said.

Panzeri, viewed as a key figure in the scandal, on Tuesday cut a deal with Belgian prosecutors to turn state’s witness in return for a lighter sentence.

As part of the cooperation agreement, Panzeri agreed to tell investigators about the countries who had given him bribes and the people he had paid off.

The European Parliament’s legal affairs committee has to make a decision on the Belgian demand to lift Tarabella’s immunity and that of another Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino.

A source in parliament said the committee had hoped to speak to Tarabella on Tuesday.

But Tarabella declined, insisting he would not speak “to the press or to anyone else before having spoken to the judicial authorities, who alone can guarantee a quality investigation and a fair procedure”.

“It also seems to me that the question of the lifting of my immunity is not up for debate; it must, of course, be lifted,” he said.