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European Parliament strips immunity from two MEPs wanted in bribery scandal

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The European Parliament voted Thursday to remove the immunity of Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella, pictured here, and Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino as they are wanted for questioning in a corruption probe. File Photo by Oliver Hoslet/EPA-EFE
The European Parliament voted Thursday to remove the immunity of Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella, pictured here, and Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino as they are wanted for questioning in a corruption probe. File Photo by Oliver Hoslet/EPA-EFE

Feb. 2 (UPI) -- The European Parliament voted Thursday to waive the immunity of two lawmakers wanted for questioning by Belgium prosecutors conducting a corruption probe into allegations foreign countries attempted to buy influence in the European Union's legislature.

Lawmakers sitting in the 705-seat assembly in Strasbourg voted with a show of hands in favor of a proposal adopted by the Legal Affairs Committee earlier this week, to lift the immunity of Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino and Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella, the assembly said in a news release.

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Parliamentary officials are typically granted the right to diplomatic immunity but can be charged if caught in the act of committing a crime.

Cozzolino, who has asserted his innocence, told Politico he was "not worried at all" about the decision.

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"My availability is total and amply documented," he said.

Tarabella was in Brussels for the vote and said he was "happy" about parliament's decision to lift his immunity.

"I repeat that I'm innocent in this affair and now it's up to the judiciary to question me," he said.

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When the scandal broke in December with six arrests in raids across Brussels, officials claimed it was one of the biggest corruption scandals to ever occur inside one of the main legislative bodies that govern the European Union.

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Eva Kaili, a former vice president of the European Parliament and member of the Greek social democratic party, was among those taken into custody, along with Italian Antonio Panzeri, a former senior MEP.

Panzeri last month agreed to tell Belgian prosecutors if foreign countries, including Qatar, illegally influenced the parliament's work, how the bribery scheme operated and who was involved.

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In December, the European Parliament voted to suspend Qatari representatives' access to the lawmaking body as well as votes on issues related to Qatar while the investigation was ongoing.

MEPs also agreed on a series of reforms including ensuring transparency of their additional income and prohibiting external financing of MEP and political groups' staff.

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