Corruption scandal: MEP Eva Kaili to remain in prison despite lawyer's pleas for electronic braceletComments
Eva Kaili, the Greek MEP at the centre of the corruption scandal engulfing the European Parliament, was on Thursday ordered to remain in prison for at least two more months, despite her lawyer's impassioned pleas for a release under electronic surveillance.
The embattled lawmaker has been in pre-trial detention since 9 December, when she was arrested by Belgian police after being reportedly caught in the act.
Her parliamentary immunity was lifted on the spot and she was later charged with participation in a criminal organisation, corruption and money laundering.
Over €150,000 in cash was found in her Brussels residence.
The decision to extend Kaili's detention was taken by a Belgian judge after a hearing in Brussels on Thursday morning, during which her lawyers denounced her continued separation from her 23-month-old daughter and asked for her release with an electronic bracelet.
Her defence team continues to insist on her innocence and plans to appeal the decision.
Kaili's domestic partner and father to her daughter, Francesco Giorgi, also remains in prison, accused of the exact same crimes.
Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella, former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri and NGO director Niccolò Figà-Talamanca have too been arrested and criminally charged, with the latter since released, with no conditions attached.
Another MEP, Andrea Cozzolino, was arrested last week in Naples and Belgian authorities have requested his extradition from Italy.
Panzeri, the presumed ringleader, has signed a plea deal with Belgian authorities, admitting actions of bribery and committing to sharing "revealing" information.
The Italian's pre-trial detention was also extended on Thursday.
Tarabella, who before his hearing on Thursday had asked for the dismissal of the investigating judge, meanwhile had his detention extended for a month. His lawyer said he would appeal on Friday with a hearing therefore expected in two weeks.
The sprawling investigation is focused on an alleged cash-for-favours scheme that involved “large” sums of money and “substantial” gifts paid by Qatar and Morocco to influence decision-making inside the European Parliament.
Qatar and Morocco have vigorously denied the claims, calling them unfounded.
Joint letter from Italian socialists
The arrest of Eva Kaili, a high-profile MEP previously associated with the socialist group (S&D), unleashed a political storm in Brussels and triggered a fast-tracked process to remove her as one of the 14 vice-presidents of the European Parliament.
She still retains her title and salary as MEP.
Throughout her detainment, her lawyers have defended her innocence and repeatedly complained about what they said were inhumane and "medieval" conditions in the police station before she was moved to the Haren prison on the outskirts of Brussels.
Her defence team has also denounced the fact that the 44-year-old has been allowed very limited visits with her infant daughter since her detention in December.
These concerns were compiled in a letter written by socialist MEPs and addressed to European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.
The letter was sent last week after being circulated among the entire S&D group, which comprises more than 140 MEPs across 26 EU countries.
However, the letter was only signed by 10 Italian socialists.
"This is not about the judicial investigation, that we fully support. This is about the detention conditions that, if proved, are incompatible with the European rule of law," MEP Massimiliano Smeriglio, the promoter behind the letter, told Euronews.
"Therefore we ask president Metsola to take appropriate measures in order to check if the accusations made by Kaili's lawyer are true. The quality of our democracy is defined by how we manage this kind of situation."
Before her hearing on Thursday, Kaili had sacked her Belgian lawyer, André Risopoulo, and chosen as replacement Sven Mary, who represented one of the terrorists behind the 2015 Paris attacks.
"If someone becomes just a symbol and the detention is done on the symbolism of detaining someone because she is known because she is vice-president of the European Parliament, I think it makes no sense," Mary told reporters on Thursday.