Saturday, January 28, 2023

MEP at centre of Qatargate scandal held in prison for another month after court hearing

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Greek MEP Eva Kaili is to be held in detention for another month, after a ruling by a court in Belgium. 

The former European Parliament vice president is suspected of being at the center of one of the European Union’s biggest corruption scandals, and her lawyers had requested her release from prison with a police tracking device.

However after the hearing, the court said it was “extending the pre-trial detention” by another month. 

Kaili’s lawyers have now got 24 hours to appeal this decision and if they decide to do so, Kaili will appear at the Brussels Court of Appeal within 15 days. 

Belgian prosecutors accuse Eva Kaili of corruption, membership in a criminal organization and money laundering. She has been in custody since 9 December while her partner Francesco Giorgi, an adviser at the European Parliament, is also jailed on the same charges.

The two are suspected of working together with Giorgi’s one-time boss, Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former EU lawmaker. According to arrest warrants, Panzeri “is suspected of intervening politically with members working at the European Parliament for the benefit of Qatar and Morocco, against payment.”

What are the other developments in this case?

TV presenter-turned-politician Kaili, 44, was removed from her post at the European Parliament last week after charges were laid against her. The EU assembly has halted work on files involving Qatar as it investigates what impact the cash-and-gifts-for-influence bribery scandal might have had. Qatar vehemently denies involvement.

The scandal hit the spotlight as Qatar hosted the soccer World Cup. The small, energy-rich Gulf nation has seen its international profile rise as Doha used its massive offshore natural gas fields to make the country one of the world’s richest per-capita, and to power its regional political ambitions.

Morocco has yet to respond to allegations that its ambassador to Poland might have been involved.

Belgian prosecutors are also seeking the hand-over of Panzeri’s wife and daughter from Italy, where they were put under house arrest on similar charges.

A fourth suspect in Belgium — Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, secretary-general of the non-governmental organization No Peace Without Justice — was also charged over the affair.

How did these allegations first come to light?

The scandal came to public attention earlier this month after police launched more than 20 raids, mostly in Belgium but also in Italy. Hundreds of thousands of euros were found at a home and in a suitcase at a hotel in Brussels. Mobile phones and computer equipment and data were seized.

Dimitrakopoulos visited the politician in jail on Wednesday for several hours. He suggested that Kaili blames her partner Georgi, with whom she has an infant daughter, and that she posed no flight risk.

“She is very troubled; she feels betrayed by her partner. She trusted him, he contradicted her,” Dimitrakopoulos told Greek reporters. “A person who has lost their freedom is miserable, and when they have a 2-year-old child waiting for them, which is in essence an orphan because its father is also in jail, they are even more miserable.”

According to transcripts of Giorgi’s Dec. 10 statements to prosecutors, which Italian newspaper La Repubblica and Belgian daily Le Soir said they had obtained, Giorgi confessed to managing the money on behalf of an “organization” led by Panzeri.

“I did it all for money, which I needed,’’ Giorgi told prosecutors, La Repubblica reported. He also tried to protect his partner, asking that Kaili be released from jail.

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