'A friend lied': Graft-accused EU lawmaker hits out
Belgian European Parliament member Marc Tarabella issued an emotional insistence of his innocence in a high-profile bribery scandal Wednesday, slamming his "pal" Italian ex-MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri for implicating him.
Tarabella, 60, addressed journalists at his lawyer's office in Liege a day after being released from house arrest and having an electronic bracelet removed.
The socialist legislator has been charged in a sprawling Belgian probe into alleged bribery by Qatar and Morocco to gain influence at the European Parliament.
Tarabella repeated his assertions that he is innocent, before turning his ire on former colleague Panzeri, a key player who cut a deal to reveal all to Belgian prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence.
"We have all been disappointed at some point by a friend who lied to us, but fortunately very few have to pay for this lie with several months in prison," Tarabella said, reading from a prepared statement.
He said Panzeri's testimony was the only basis prosecutors had to link him to the case, and accused the Italian of throwing him under the bus "to avoid being devoured".
Tarabella insisted he was stunned when Panzeri, who headed an NGO, was detained over the graft allegations, and said he was an "old pal" who shared his passion for Italian football.
The "Qatargate" scandal erupted in December when Belgian investigators swooped on addresses in Brussels, arresting four suspects and netting over 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in cash.
Tarabella was detained in February and held in prison for two months before being released to his residence. He remains under formal arrest and subject to judicial supervision.
According to the Belgian press, Panzeri told investigators he paid Tarabella "between 120,000 and 140,000 euros" for his help on issues to do with Qatar.
All other suspects in the probe have also been released from jail, with Panzeri and Greek MEP Eva Kaili still confined to their homes.
The scandal has rocked the EU's institutions and forced the parliament to hastily introduce reforms aimed at curbing outside influence.
Both Qatar and Morocco deny any involvement in wrongdoing, as do Kaili and Tarabella.