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Belgian MEP arrested in ‘cash for influence’ inquiry

Police search Marc Tarabella’s safe deposit box and offices as part of anti-corruption investigatio

A second MEP has been arrested as part of a criminal investigation into alleged bribery, corruption and money laundering at the European parliament.

Marc Tarabella of Belgium was taken in for questioning after police arrived at his home at about 6am on Friday, according to Belgian press reports. Tarabella has previously declared his innocence.

A statement from Belgium’s federal prosecutor said an MEP identified as “MT” had been arrested for questioning and may soon appear before an investigative judge.

It said police had searched a safe deposit box belonging to him in the city of Liège, as well as several offices in the town hall of Anthisnes, a small district in east Belgium where Tarabella has been mayor for nearly 30 years.

He is the second MEP to have been detained over the investigation into alleged cash for influence payments from the governments of Qatar and Morocco. In December, a former European parliament vice-president, Eva Kaili, was arrested during a series of raids where police seized bundles of cash totalling nearly €1.5m.

Tarabella’s Brussels home was searched last month, and last week he was stripped of his immunity by the European parliament at the request of the Belgian federal prosecutor.

He is suspected by investigators of having taken cash payments of between €120,000 and €140,000 to take supportive positions “in favour of a third country”, according to a report drawn up by the European parliament’s legal affairs committee.

Investigators believe he is a close associate of Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former Italian MEP thought to be the ringleader of the corruption network. Panzeri recently struck a plea bargain with prosecutors in which he agreed to provide information in exchange for a reduced jail sentence.

Panzeri and Kaili were arrested in December along with Panzeri’s former assistant Francesco Giorgi and the head of a Brussels-based NGO, Niccolò Figà-Talamanca. All four have been held in pre-trial detention. Kaili and Figà-Talamanca have denied wrongdoing, while a lawyer for Giorgi has declined to comment.

Tarabella, 59, has been a member of the European parliament since 2004, with a two-year gap between 2007 and 2009 when he was a minister in the regional government of Wallonia, the eastern Francophone part of Belgium.

He was a member of the European parliament’s delegation for relations with the Arabian peninsula, which includes Qatar. After the scandal broke, he stood down from that position and gave up his membership of the Socialists and Democrats group in the parliament.

A month before the scandal emerged, Tarabella participated in a debate in the parliament’s subcommittee on human rights on Qatar and the World Cup.

Tarabella, who was not a member of that committee, criticised fellow MEPs who had drawn attention to the deaths of migrant workers building World Cup infrastructure in Qatar. He accused them of basing their criticism on outdated information and claimed neither China nor Russia had faced such questions when they hosted international sports competitions.

“We didn’t have all of this when we were talking about Sochi or Beijing,” he said, urging MEPs “to actually respect [Qatar’s] journey”.

source: the guardian



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