Belgium releases all but one ‘Qatargate’ suspect


All but one suspect in the alleged corruption case at the European parliament have been released from house arrest, as the Belgian investigation into the ‘Qatargate’ scandal enters a new phase.

The former vice-president of the EU parliament, Eva Kaili, will be freed from house arrest and electronic surveillance, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said on Thursday.

Eric Van Duyse, a spokesperson for the prosecutor, said this meant “the case is advanced enough that detention is no longer justified”, and there was no risk of flight, manipulation of evidence or collusion with other suspects.

Kaili, who was arrested last December, spent four months in Belgian prison and was released under house arrest with an electronic tag on April 14. Her time in a Brussels prison cell, where she would see her two-year-old daughter twice a month, has also been described as “torture” by her lawyer, who had filed a complaint about the “inhumane” circumstances she had been through while in custody.

Kaili has maintained her innocence. She remains a suspect, and as such, she can be called into questioning and might need authorisation to leave Belgium, Van Duyse said.

Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, Kaili’s lawyer, welcomed her release and said she was planning to apply for the return to her duties as a vice-president of the European parliament. The parliament had stripped her of her functions following her arrest.

Following a months-long stint that included placing surveillance cameras at the house of the main suspect, Pier Antonio Panzeri, Belgian police in December carried out unprecedented raids at the homes and offices of EU lawmakers, arresting Kaili and her partner, Francesco Giorgi, a former assistant to Panzeri.

Belgian authorities seized €1.5mn in cash and charged the trio, as well as another suspect who has since been released, with money laundering and participation in an organised criminal group, which allegedly took bribes from Morocco and Qatar to influence EU legislation. The two countries have denied any wrongdoing.

But the investigations into the unprecedented corruption case have seemingly slowed down, as all suspects except Panzeri have now been freed.

Panzeri, a former EU lawmaker himself, struck a plea deal with Belgian prosecutors and confessed to the crimes in exchange for a shorter sentence. Giorgi has also partly admitted guilt and was released in February, while Kaili continued to stay in prison. Panzeri was released under electronic surveillance in April and remains under house arrest, Van Duyse said.

MEP Marc Tarabella, another suspect arrested in February, was released from house arrest this month. Tarabella returned to work in parliament this week, attending several committee meetings.