Greek MEP Eva Kaili to stay in custody after corruption charges, says court

Eva Kaili, the Greek MEP at the centre of a cash for influence scandal implicating Qatar, will remain in jail pending trial, a Belgian court has decided.

“In its order this morning, the pre-council chamber extended the pre-trial detention of E.K by one month,” said a statement from the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office. If Kaili chooses to appeal against the decision within 24 hours, she will appear before a chamber at the Brussels court of appeal within 15 days.

Earlier in the day, her legal team requested her release under electronic tag. Her lawyer, André Risopoulos, said she was fully cooperating with the investigation and denied all charges against her.

Kaili is one of four people who have been charged with corruption and money laundering in the case. Investigators have seized nearly €1.5m (£1.3m) in cash from various Brussels properties, including €150,000 from her apartment.

The other four suspects are Kaili’s partner, European parliament assistant, Francesco Giorgi, former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, and the head of an NGO, Niccolò Figà-Talamanca.

Figà-Talamanca’s family have denied all charges against him. Giorgi has been reported by Belgian and Italian media to have confessed and sought to exonerate his partner. He did not respond to a message sent to his phone.

Investigators believe Panzeri, an MEP during 2004-19, is a pivotal figure in the criminal network, who took bribes from Qatar and Morocco. About €600,000 was found at his Brussels home during police raids earlier this month. A lawyer for Panzeri has not commented on the charges, Reuters reported.

One of Kaili’s lawyers, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, told the press she had been “betrayed” by her partner, the father of her child.

According to a leaked document from the investigation cited in Le Soir, Kaili has admitted that she knew suitcases of cash passed through the apartment she shared with Giorgi. According to the document, when he was arrested just outside their flat on 9 December, the former TV news anchor panicked and asked her father, who was visiting Brussels, to hide the money.

Kaili’s father was arrested that morning attempting to leave the Sofitel hotel in the EU quarter with a suitcase stuffed with €750,000 in notes. He was released the same day without charge.

Her lawyer, Risopoulos, said he was scandalised about the leak of investigation documents and said he had never seen such “frontal violations” of confidentiality.

Meanwhile, Greek authorities, conducting a parallel investigation, announced they had taken possession of a prime plot of land that the MEP and her partner recently bought on the Aegean island of Paros.

The confiscation was ordered by the former supreme court judge Charalambos Vourliotis, who heads the country’s anti-laundering authority, following “concrete signs” of financial impropriety, according to well-placed sources. Authorities seized the asset after a financial prosecutor found evidence of money laundering in the purchase of the property, a large sea view plot in one of the popular island’s most sought after spots.

The deposits of a joint bank account in the name of the couple were also confiscated, with officials implying the account had been used to launder money.

Dimitrakopoulos has insisted the land was bought with her MEP earnings. “They wanted a house to stay when they came in the summer,” Vazaios Petropoulos, the couple’s French-trained architect told state-run TV. “The plan was to have a house for the family.”

The MEP’s other assets in Greece have already been frozen and last week she was stripped of her role as one of the European parliament’s 14 vice-presidents.

Kaili will be tried in Belgium first, but will also face trial in Greece if the investigation currently under way finds proof of money laundering, with widespread reports that if she is found guilty she could face up to 15 years in prison.

The scandal has shaken the European parliament and prompted questions about the activities of other EU figures. On Wednesday, the European Commission said it would write to former EU commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos “to obtain further information” about how he represented an NGO implicated in the scandal during a cooling off period after he left office.

Avramopoulos, who was in charge of EU policy on home affairs and migration until 2019, has said he was paid €60,000 for one year as an honorary board member of the Brussels NGO Fight Impunity – a campaign group founded by Panzeri.

The former commissioner announced last week he was resigning from the board of Fight Impunity, along with other high-profile figures, including former French prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve and a previous EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini. In a statement to Greek news agency AMNA, Avramopoulos said he was paid €5,000 a month from the NGO for one year from February 2021, which was declared and taxed in Greece. He said he had asked for the payments to end after one year, as the NGO’s activity had “greatly declined”.

Avramopoulos was cleared to work for Fight Impunity in December 2020 by a Brussels panel, as long as he did not lobby EU commissioners during his two-year cooling off period. Earlier this week the euobserver website reported Avramopoulos had met several EU commissioners while on the Fight Impunity payroll.

The commission’s chief spokesperson said these were “short courtesy meetings” with former colleagues and his successor, and that Avramopoulos had not represented Fight Impunity or discussed “such issues”.

Nevertheless the commission has said it would write to the former commissioner “to obtain further information to see how he respected the conditions in his post-mandate activity and how he represented this NGO during this period between the date of authorisation and the end of the cooling off period”.

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