Corruption scandal: Italian socialists suspend MEP Andrea Cozzolino until investigation concludes

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By Euronews
Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino was suspended by his own party, Partito Democratico (PD).
Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino was suspended by his own party, Partito Democratico (PD).   -   Copyright  European Union, 2019.

Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino has been suspended by his own party, the centre-left Partito Democratico (PD), until the investigation into the corruption scandal engulfing the European Parliament comes to an end.

The party's national guarantee commission announced the decision on Friday, saying it was a "precaution" and would be "immediately enforceable."

The suspension is also meant to "protect" the image of Partito Democratico and allow Cozzolino to defend his own position in the ongoing case, the statement said.

Cozzolino has not been charged as part of the Belgian prosecutor's probe into the scandal.

"I have not been questioned. I have not been searched, nor has my office been sealed," the MEP told Italian media. "I'm ready to protect my integrity and my reputation in every venue."

However, his former parliamentary assistant, Francesco Giorgi, is in custody, together with his life partner, Greek MEP Eva Kaili, former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, and NGO director Niccolò Figà-Talamanca.

The four have been charged with participation in a criminal organisation, corruption and money laundering.

They are suspected of accepting "large sums of money" and "substantial gifts" from a Gulf country, widely identified as Qatar, in order to influence European decision-making.

The alleged cash-for-favours scheme has sent shockwaves through Brussels and thrown under question the European Parliament's transparency and lobbying rules.

Scrutiny has honed in on the parliament's socialist group, known as S&D, to which Kaili belonged.

Earlier this week, the S&D asked four of its members to step down from key positions and legislative files including Andrea Cozzolino as well as Marc Tarabella (Belgium), Maria Arena (Belgium) and Pietro Bartolo (Italy).

"We have decided that the MEPs who are being investigated or those whose assistants are being investigated by law enforcement relinquish any position of responsibility that they exercise in the Parliament and in the S&D group as long proceedings are ongoing," S&D President Iratxe García Pérez told reporters on Tuesday.

The move from Partito Democratico (PD) follows an explosive report by Reuters and Belgian newspaper Le Soir that suggests Francesco Giorgi confessed to taking bribes from Qatar and put the blame on Cozzolino and Tarabella in a bid to exonerate Eva Kaili.

Giorgi said he suspected Cozzolino, his former boss, had received illicit Qatari funds but it's unclear if he presented any evidence to back his claims, Reuters wrote.

Cozzolino's office did not reply to several requests sent by Euronews.

In his capacity as MEP, Cozzolino chaired the European Parliament's delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries, including the EU-Morocco, EU-Tunisia and EU-Algeria Joint Parliamentary Committees.

Enrico Letta, the leader of Partito Democratico, had previously described the corruption scandal as "unacceptable" and asked for "total transparency."

Additional sources • Jorge Liboreiro, Vincenzo Genovese