Lawyers representing Eva Kaili have asked the European Parliament to investigate whether her parliamentary immunity was violated as part of investigations into the so-called Qatargate cash-for-influence scandal.
In an interview with Euronews, Christophe Marchand and Sven Mary said they had requested a hearing before the parliament's legal affairs (JURI) committee to present what they claim to be evidence of a breach of the Greek MEP's right to parliamentary protection.
They hope that if the parliament found her arrest to have violated the institution's rules on immunity, designed to protect lawmakers from arbitrary political persecution, it would support their case in the Belgian courts.
"The parliamentary protection of Eva Kaili was not respected and for that there are consequences. One consequence is that she cannot be prosecuted for that," Marchand explained.
The corruption scandal, which saw Kaili and other figures from the parliament accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of euros from Qatari and Moroccan officials in exchange for influencing the decisions of the European Parliament, sent shockwaves across Brussels and forced the parliament to clamp down on lax rules on staff conduct. Both countries have vehemently the allegations.
Kaili was arrested for offences including corruption and money laundering last December after she was reportedly 'caught in the act', allowing her parliamentary immunity to be immediately lifted.
She was later removed from her position as one of the European Parliament's vice presidents and her party membership was suspended.
But her lawyers, who insist on her innocence, claim her arrest and prior investigations conducted by the Belgian prosecutor and the secret services of various EU countries amount to an "attack on the heart of democracy in the EU."
"You had [...] misbehaviour from the Belgian justice system, not respecting the court system, attacking the functioning of the European Parliament," Marchand claimed. "You had Belgian police officers going undercover in the parliament, surveilling the parliament."
"The Parliament has to be aware of that and then take the good decisions," he went on.
"The European Parliament has the duty to act now. If they don't act, then we take consequences because we consider it's a fault, it's a personal fault," he added.
The lawyers said their request for a hearing, submitted already to the Bureau of the Parliament and the JURI committee, was a personal plea on President Metsola to "handle" the case before the parliament.
A spokesperson for the JURI committee told Euronews that it had received MEP Kaili's request to defend her immunity and that the case was "open."
"When JURI will be ready to hold a hearing, it will invite the MEP in question to be heard," the spokesperson said, confirming that no date has yet been set and that the hearing would happen behind closed doors.
In their interview on Wednesday, Kaili's legal team repeatedly defended their client's innocence and claimed the prosecutor's investigation files, to which they have recently gained access, include no evidence that she was ever "paid to do an undue action as a member of the parliament."
They say the Belgian prosecutors had been "mistaken" in their investigations and that their "tunnel vision" approach had led them to mistakenly incriminate Kaili for crimes for which she is not guilty, despite several bags of cash believed to have been found in her Brussels home.
They also claim that a report submitted to the federal prosecutor by the Belgian secret services in April last year, months before her arrest, made no reference to Kaili.
"Her name was not mentioned in that report. So there was no suspicion against her. There were a lot of other suspicions against other people, who in the beginning were not disturbed in this file," Mary said.
"These names were known. These names were considered as suspicious, but nothing was done with that," he added, claiming that amongst those names was that of Maria Arena, a Belgian MEP who has denied any involvement but whose assistant's office was raided in connection to the case.
"You cannot call this file anymore Qatargate. That's over. You have to call the file Belgium-gate," Mary said.
The leading investigating judge on the case Michael Claise was forced to step down from his role in June following allegations of bias.
It was revealed that Claise's son was a business partner to the son of Maria Arena in a medicinal cannabis company.
An official announcement issued by the Federal Prosecutor's Office claimed Claise decided to withdraw from the case "despite the absence of any real evidence to cast doubt on the probity of any of the parties involved, and the substantial work he and his investigators have accomplished in this case".
But Marchand and Mary maintain that Kaili has been the victim of an unnecessarily heavy hand at the hand of Belgian prosecutors.
"What is the difference between finding money around Madame Arena and finding money around Madame Kaili? What's the difference? Why one goes to jail during four months? Why? And another is not even disturbed," Mary questioned, claiming cash was also found at a location linked to MEP Maria Arena.
Giorgi relationship a 'personal matter'
Kaili's life partner, Francesco Giorgi, is another key suspect in the sprawling investigation.
Since his arrest in December, Giorgi is believed to have confessed to stashing Qatar-gifted cash at his and Kaili's home for Pier Antonio Panzeri, the Italian socialist MEP at the epicentre of the case and for whom Giorgi was previously an assistant.
Panzeri, now considered a "repenti" by the Belgian prosecutor, has agreed to share substantial details about the case with the Belgian prosecutors.
But Kaili's team insists the money stashed by her partner at their home does not in any way incriminate her.
They continue to question why Kaili was detained for a substantially longer period than others, having previously claimed she was being held behind bars "as a trophy."
Since she was released from Haren prison in April this year, Kaili's decision to continue to reside with Giorgi has drawn criticism. But her team insists that this is a private choice that should not interfere with her right to presumed innocence.
"The fact that Eva Kaili still lives with Francesco Girogi. You know, Melania Trump is also with Donald Trump," Mary said. "It's a private matter."
"What I know is that they are a very good father and a very good mother for their young child. And I think this is the only thing we have to think about," he went on.
"What is the relationship between them, if they sleep together, if they eat or not together, you know, for real, I could not answer this question," he added.
Despite her ordeal, Kaili is determined to "fight" to prove her innocence and to continue her political career, according to her lawyers.