The European Parliament's Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) voted unanimously in a closed-door session on Tuesday to recommend the suspension of the parliamentary immunity of Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella (S&D) and Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino (S&D), both of whom are suspected of involvement in the Qatargate corruption scandal.
Parliamentary rapporteur and Left Group Co-Chair Manon Aubry applauded the Committee for its "unambiguous" decision, and also commended it for issuing its recommendation far sooner than would typically be expected.
"The Committee on Legal Affairs has never ruled so quickly," Aubry told Le Soir, adding: "We wanted to act quickly so that justice could do its job."
JURI's decision follows a formal request to the European Parliament by the Belgian authorities on 2 January to suspend the MEPs' immunity. Both Cozzolino and Tarabella had previously indicated that they were willing to comply with the request.
On Thursday, MEPs will vote in a plenary session on whether to heed the Committee's recommendation.
In a separate interview with RTBF, Aubry explained that the Committee ultimately decided in favour of lifting Tarabella's and Cozzolino's immunity following recent testimony from former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri (S&D) and his former parliamentary assistant Francesco Giorgi. Both Panzeri and Giorgi (who also previously worked for Cozzolino) have confessed to their involvement in Qatargate and alleged Tarabella's and Cozzolino's co-participation.
"The facts complained of come from the testimonies of Panzeri and Giorgi, and are sufficiently substantiated for it to be judged that the judicial authorities need to question Tarabella and Cozzolino," Aubry explained.
She added: "I hope that this lifting of immunity will be able to shed all the light on this corruption scandal because, to date, we have only the tip of the iceberg. Puzzle pieces are missing and I hope that this lifting of immunity will make it possible to find the other pieces of the puzzle."
- Scandal at European Parliament: Cozzolino pleads innocent to fellow MEPs
- Scandal at European Parliament: Belgian MEP Tarabella expelled from PS and S&D
The Committee's decision also follows Cozzolino's own decision to call a special parliamentary hearing last week, in which he defended himself against allegations that he had accepted bribes from the Qatari and Moroccan Governments.
During the hearing, Cozzolino claimed that his "critical" views of Qatar and Morocco were "manifestly incompatible" with the allegation that he had received illicit funds from either country's government. He also claimed that he was happy to "formally renounce" his parliamentary immunity to "relieve the pressure on the European Parliament and in order to collaborate with the investigation".
RTBF has since obtained a similarly-worded letter sent by Tarabella to JURI on 23 January: "It seems to me that the question of lifting my immunity does not have to be debated; it must of course be lifted. Although [I am] fully aware of the possible consequences of this lifting of immunity, I myself am in favour of it. I want to fight!"