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Corruption scandal: Eva Kaili kept behind bars as prosecutor's 'trophy,' her lawyer claims

Greek MEP Eva Kaili has been in pre-trial detention since her arrest in early December.
Greek MEP Eva Kaili has been in pre-trial detention since her arrest in early December. Copyright European Union, 2022.
Copyright European Union, 2022.
By Maria Psara & Jorge Liboreiro
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In an exclusive interview with Euronews, Sven Mary said the Belgian authorities have not found any new evidence to justify Eva Kaili's imprisonment.

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Eva Kaili, the Greek MEP at the centre of the corruption scandal engulfing the European Parliament, will not confess in order to get out of jail, her lawyer has said, insisting on her innocence and accusing Belgian authorities of keeping her behind bars as a "trophy."

"It is high time that Ms Kaili is released and that her presumption of innocence is respected," Sven Mary told Euronews in an exclusive interview.

"There is no longer any reason to keep Ms Kaili in prison," he claimed.

Kaili has been in pre-trial detention in the Haren prison, located on the outskirts of Brussels, since her arrest on 9 December. She was reportedly caught in the act and her parliamentary immunity was immediately lifted.

The 44-year-old lawmaker was then charged with participation in a criminal organisation, corruption and money laundering.

Her arrest sent shockwaves across Brussels and brought to light a sprawling investigation into a cash-for-favours scheme that involved "large sums of money" allegedly paid out by Qatar and Morocco in order to influence European policy-making.

Both countries deny any wrongdoing.

Kaili was later removed from her position as one of the European Parliament's vice presidents and her party membership was suspended.

"Cases like Ms Kaili's are considered as a trophy or a symbol and they are shown like the World Cup," her lawyer claimed.

"Ms Kaili is lifted as a symbol to say: 'Even if you hold high office, you will remain in prison.' And this is made especially to say to the other lawmakers: 'Do not commit corruption because you will go to prison for a long time.'"

As part of the ongoing probe, five people have been arrested and remain criminally charged by Belgian authorities: Eva Kaili, her domestic partner Francesco Giorgi, former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, NGO director Niccolò Figà-Talamanca, and Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella.

All of them have been or will be released from prison – except Kaili.

"I can no longer understand today the reason for the preventive detention, especially when two people are released: Panzeri, the head of the criminal organisation, and his right arm, Francesco Giorgi. These two people have confessed to committing crimes of corruption," Mary said.

"This preventive detention is a means of pressure to extract confessions. And I say this plainly: there will be no confession from Ms Kaili. There will be none since there is no wrongdoing on her part that has been committed."

The Belgian Federal Prosecutor's Office refused to comment on the lawyer's accusations.

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"We're going to make our point clear at court," a spokesperson said.

'Tunnel vision'

In his interview with Euronews on Tuesday at his office in Brussels, Mary repeatedly defended his client's innocence and claimed the investigation had failed to yield any new evidence to justify Kaili's continued imprisonment.

According to the lawyer, Kaili spent the last two weeks replying to "all the questions" posed by investigators across sessions lasting a total of 15 hours.

"They want to hear certain answers, but those are not the answers Ms Kaili is giving. And when Ms Kaili doesn't give the answers they want to hear, well, that's not good," Mary said, accusing Belgian authorities of suffering from "tunnel vision."

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Mary was particularly critical of Pier Antonio Panzeri, the presumed ringleader of the corruption scheme who has struck a plea deal with the prosecutor in which he admits to criminal participation in bribery and agrees to share "revealing" details.

"I have my big doubts whether Mr Panzeri is really telling the truth. He is telling his own truth. That's quite a difference," he said.

Kaili's detention, Mary claimed, is based on just two elements: Panzeri's confession and the phone call Kaili made to her father, Alexandros Kailis, on 9 December, when she allegedly asked him to remove the bags of cash she had just found out in her apartment.

The father was caught at the Sofitel hotel carrying a suitcase stuffed with cash but was later released without charges.

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Since her arrest, Eva Kaili has undergone several hearings before the court in Brussels but her release has never been granted, despite pleas from her defence team.

Kaili will face a new hearing on Thursday, where Mary plans to ask for her liberation under conditions, although not necessarily with electronic surveillance.

Francesco Giorgi, Kaili's domestic partner with whom she has a two-year-old daughter, was released in late February with an electronic bracelet, a decision that Mary credited to Giorgi's criminal admissions.

Giorgi worked as a parliamentary assistant, first for Panzeri and later for Andrea Cozzolino, an Italian MEP who is also suspected of being part of the cash-for-favours scheme and is now fighting extradition from Italy to Belgium.

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"Will she live under the same roof as Francesco Giorgi? He's her partner, he's the father of her child and they both own the house. So I assume they will live in the same house," Mary said, speaking about Kaili's hypothetical release.

"He has never accused her of anything, unlike Mr Panzeri."

Asked how Kaili feels about Giorgi after all the twists and turns in the scandal, Mary quoted a Belgian saying: "You never wash your dirty laundry in public."

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