EU lawmaker at heart of corruption case to remain in custody

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European Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili’s office door, right, and which is sealed, is reflected in a mirror at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Tuesday Dec 13, 2022. The European Union’s parliament was reeling Tuesday, it’s credibility under threat, as a corruption and bribery scandal damaged lawmakers’ careers and as fingers pointed at Qatari officials accused of seeking to play down labor rights concerns ahead of the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

BRUSSELS (AP) — A Greek European lawmaker charged with corruption in an alleged plot by a Gulf country that’s tarnishing EU institutions will stay in detention until at least next week after her hearing by a judge was postponed, judicial officials said on Wednesday.

Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili, whose term in office was terminated this week by fellow lawmakers, had been set to appear Wednesday before a judge in Brussels alongside three other people who have been arrested in connection with the case.

Kaili’s lawyer, André Risopoulos, said her hearing was rescheduled to Dec. 22. He declined to give further details. Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office confirmed the new date when a judge will decide whether to keep Kaili in custody, saying the postponement was at her request.

Police have now conducted more than 20 raids, mostly in Belgium but also in Italy, as part of a probe into alleged bribery for political favors. Prosecutors said in a statement they suspect that people “in political and/or strategic positions within the European Parliament were paid large sums of money or offered substantial gifts to influence Parliament’s decisions.”

Belgian authorities have not identified the Gulf country suspected of offering cash or gifts to officials at the European Parliament, but several members of the assembly and some Belgian media have linked the investigation to the soccer World Cup host, Qatar.

Prosecutors have charged four people, including Kaili, with corruption, participation in a criminal group and money laundering.

Two suspects, including Kaili’s partner, Francesco Giorgi, who is a parliamentary advisor, and Pier Antonio Panzeri, an former Parliament member and the founder of a non-profit campaign group, were kept in preventive detention Wednesday after their court hearing.

Prosecutors said Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, the secretary-general of another campaign group, will be allowed to leave his cell but placed under surveillance with an electronic monitoring bracelet. All three have 24 hours to appeal.

The two non-governmental organizations, Panzeri’s Fight Immunity and Figa-Talamanca’s No Peace Without Justice, share the same street address on prime real estate in the government and diplomatic quarter of Brussels. They have not responded to phone calls or emails, and no one answered the doorbell at the address.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said EU relations with any foreign country implicated would be affected if bribes were confirmed.

“Trying to influence our decision-making with bribery, if that would be confirmed that it is the case, that it is related to certain countries, I would not see how it would not have consequences in the relation,” he said. “First of all the mistake is with the persons that let themselves be bribed. Let’s be clear on that. But it’s not only them. There’s always two sides to this.”

While Qatar has arguably received some favorable reviews in Europe this year, establishing that European officials were paid off to provide them typically would be difficult. But investigators have seized hundreds of thousands of euros at the homes of officials, according to Belgian prosecutors.

De Croo added that the scandal is proof there is a need for “more scrutiny and more transparency in the European Parliament.”

“We are a partner of the president, Roberta Metsola, to improve the functioning and to bring more transparency and to really go to the bottom of the investigation that is taking place,” he said.

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