Italian former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri — one of the politicians at the very centre of the Qatargate corruption scandal — has alleged that he paid Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella between €120,000 and €140,000 to support pro-Qatari policies, l'Echo has reported.
Tarabella's lawyer, Maxim Töller, has since vehemently denied that his client received any such money from Panzeri, and pointed to the fact that a police search of Tarabella's home last month failed to find any illicit funds.
"Mr Tarabella completely denies that he would have received even the smallest amount of money," Töller told De Standaard. "Nothing. No gifts, no money."
Töller also claimed that "there is no question" that his client would resign from his parliamentary party (the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats) of his own accord, despite immense pressure being put on Tarabella to do so by his fellow S&D party members.
"To withdraw himself [from the S&D group] when he has not been charged or convicted is problematic, Töller said. "Everyone has turned their backs on him."
Tarabella is, however, expected to have his parliamentary immunity stripped in the coming weeks, following a formal request by the Belgian authorities.
'He promises to tell everything'
The allegations concerning Tarabella came just hours after Panzeri's lawyer announced that his client had agreed to collaborate with the Belgian authorities in exchange for a reduced prison sentence.
In a press release, the Belgian Federal Prosecutor's Office stated that Panzeri had undertaken "a commitment to make substantial, revealing, sincere and complete statements concerning the participation of third parties [in the scandal] and, if necessary, his own participation."
It also noted that, as compensation, Panzeri will incur a "limited sentence", which "will include jail time, a fine and the confiscation of all acquired property benefits, currently estimated at one million euros."
"For [Panzeri], the social penalty suffered is major," Panzeri's lawyer, Laurent Kennes, explained to l'Echo. "He wanted it to stop and be able to think about the future. He's going to collaborate. He made an agreement. He promises to tell everything, to tell the whole truth."
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On Tuesday evening, Kennes further explained to RTBF that his client had exonerated fellow Belgian MEP Maria Arena of any involvement in the scandal, and described her as "someone who is extremely upright, who should not have been accused as is the case here."
Last week, Arena resigned from her position as Chair of the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) after Politico had revealed she had failed to properly declare that her accommodation and flights to and from Doha on 8 and 9 May last year had been paid for by the Qatari Government.
In a statement to Belga News Agency, Maria Arena explained that her decision to resign was taken "in view of the politico-media attacks of recent weeks that are damaging not only my image, but also all the work carried out within the DROI Subcommittee."
She added that, unlike Tarabella and fellow S&D member Andrea Cozzolino, "the Belgian authorities have not requested the lifting of my parliamentary immunity; neither my office nor my home has been searched, and I have not been questioned in any way by the justice system."