Court says EU corruption scandal suspect must remain in jail
BRUSSELS (AP) — A former European Parliament vice president suspected of being at the center of one of the European Union’s biggest corruption scandals is to be kept in prison for at least another month, Belgian prosecutors said Thursday.
The prosecutors accuse Eva Kaili of corruption, membership in a criminal organization and money laundering. She has been in custody since Dec. 9. Her partner, Francesco Giorgi, an adviser at the European Parliament, is jailed on the same charges.
The two are suspected of working 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.”
Kaili’s lawyers had said that she posed no flight risk and requested in a Brussels court that she be released under surveillance by wearing an electronic police tracking device.
But prosecutors said in a statement that the court has “prolonged the preventative detention ... by one month.” Her legal team has 24 hours to appeal the decision. If they do, she could appear before the judges again within two weeks.
Earlier, her Belgian lawyer, Andre Risopoulos, told reporters that the 44-year-old Greek former TV news presenter was cooperating fully with investigators.
“She is playing an active role in the investigation. She rejects all corruption allegations against her,” Risopoulos said. He and Kaili’s family lawyer from Greece, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, declined to comment further on the hearing.
Kaili was removed from her post at the EU parliament last week after being charged. The 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 handover 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.
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 jailed politician on Wednesday for several hours. He suggested that Kaili blames her partner Georgi, with whom she has an infant daughter.
“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.
Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed to this report.