Corruption scandal: MEP Marc Tarabella arrested by Belgian police, pending hearing before judge

Marc Tarabella is a Belgian MEP who used to be associated with the socialist group.
Marc Tarabella is a Belgian MEP who used to be associated with the socialist group. Copyright European Union, 2019.
Copyright European Union, 2019.
By Jorge Liboreiro
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Marc Tarabella's parliamentary immunity was lifted by MEPs earlier this month, paving the way for his arrest.


The investigation into the corruption scandal engulfing the European Parliament has resulted in a new arrest: Marc Tarabella, the Belgian MEP formerly associated with the socialist group, was taken into police custody on Friday morning.

A bank safe located in Liège that belongs to the lawmaker and several offices inside the town hall of Anthisnes were also searched.

Tarabella is now waiting for a hearing before a judge, who could decide to release him or charge him as part of the widening probe, the Belgian Federal Prosecutor's Office confirmed to Euronews, without specifying the possible charges he might face.

The MEP will have to be heard in a maximum period of 48 hours.

Since his name became embroiled in the scandal, Tarabella has consistently defended his innocence.

The police operation to take Tarabella into custody took place on Friday morning, between 6:00 and 8:00 AM CET, the prosecutor's office said.

European legislators enjoy immunity from detention and legal proceedings, but Tarabella lost this privilege last week after his colleagues voted to strip him of this special protection.

Tarabella himself voted for the lifting of his own immunity.

Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino was also deprived of protection during that same vote.

Since the scandal exploded in mid-December, four people have been officially charged: Greek MEP Eva Kaili, her domestic partner Francesco Giorgi, former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri and NGO director Niccolò Figà-Talamanca.

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

Kaili, Giorgi and Panzeri remain in prison, while Figà-Talamanca was released earlier this month without conditions.

The investigation is looking into illicit lobbying allegedly carried out by Qatar and Morocco in a bid to influence EU decision-making.

Both Qatar and Morocco vigorously deny the claims.

The alleged lobbying entailed "large sums" of money and "substantial" gifts, prosecutors said. Over €1.5 million in cash has been seized across dozens of police raids.

Panzeri, the presumed intermediary between the Arab countries and the hemicycle, has signed a deal with authorities in which he admitted his criminal participation in bribery and committed to sharing "revealing" details about the cash-for-favour scheme.

According to Belgian media, Panzeri has confessed to handing over €120,000 in cash to Tarabella over several instalments in relation to the latter's work on Qatar-related issues.

Tarabella's lawyer insists his client has never accepted any money or gift from Qatar.


Who is Marc Tarabella?

Marc Tarabella is a Belgian MEP who sat with the socialist group since his election in 2004 until the eruption of the corruption scandal in December when his membership was suspended.

Tarabella used to be part of several parliamentary committees, such as the delegation for relations with the Arab Peninsula, known as DARP, which includes Qatar.

Back in November, Tarabella defended Qatar's labour rights in the context of the FIFA World Cup, using similar arguments to those voiced by Eva Kaili in the same plenary session.

"Much progress remains to be made, but (Qatar) is still the country that has embarked on the path of reform," Tarabella said, speaking in French.

"What is important is that, when the lights of the World Cup have gone out, the positive evolution continues not only in Qatar, but it can spread to all the countries of the Arabian Peninsula."


In early December, Tarabella voted in favour of a visa waiver for Qatari and Kuwaiti citizens, a legislative file that has since then been put on hold.

In January, his lawyer admitted Tarabella had failed to declare a working trip he made to Qatar in 2020.

The 59-year-old is now a non-attached legislator, meaning he is not affiliated with any political group, and still earns a post-tax salary of €7,146 per month. 

The removal of democratically elected legislators from the European Parliament can only be done according to the law of the MEP's country of origin, in this case, Belgium.

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