'Qatargate': Belgian justice keeps Eva Kaili in prison | International

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The Belgian justice has once again decreed this Thursday the maintenance in preventive detention of the former vice president of the European Parliament Eva Kaili, the most prominent political figure involved in the Qatargate, the scandal of alleged bribery by countries like Qatar and Morocco in the European Parliament that has shaken the European institutions. The Brussels court of appeal has thus ignored the request for probation of her defense, who has denounced the humiliating treatment to which the still MEP has been subjected during her detention.

The decision of the judges comes in the same week that a judicial agreement with the presumed ringleader of the Qatargate, the former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, who has promised to reveal all the ins and outs of the plot in exchange for a reduced sentence. Pending new revelations and names, the European Parliament, for its part, has also promised these days to continue strengthening its surveillance and transparency systems. Paradoxically, in these days it has been known that numerous MEPs, including President Roberta Metsola, have declared, with a long delay, the trips paid for by third parties, despite the fact that the regulations require doing so in the month after the visit made.

The Belgian court's response represents a new setback for Kaili's defense, who had already requested probation for his client at a first hearing on December 22. In addition, the lawyers denounced this Thursday as "torture" the humiliating conditions to which the former vice president was subjected last week in the framework of an interrogation by the Qatargate. As explained after the hearing, Kaili was held incommunicado between Wednesday, January 11, and Friday, January 13, by order of the investigating judge handling the case, Michel Claise. In that period, for 16 hours, she was taken out of jail to be interrogated, during which time she “remained in a police cell and not in prison. She was cold, she was denied a second blanket, her coat was taken away, the light was constantly on, which prevented her from sleeping, she had her period with a lot of bleeding and she was not allowed to wash, ”said the Greek defender of her, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos. A conduct, he affirmed, that "violates the European convention on human rights", and is typical of the "Middle Ages". “Eva Kaili faces charges, but there is a presumption of innocence. We are in Europe!” insisted the lawyer, who came from Athens for the hearing.

Although he has not been given an official reason for keeping Kaili incommunicado, his Belgian lawyer, André Risopoulos, pointed out that the times coincide with the days when Panzeri was negotiating the agreement with the Prosecutor's Office for which he has agreed to tell the entire plot of corruption in exchange for a reduced penalty. Risopoulos has also expressed his incomprehension of the "difficult" conditions of detention - he has only seen his 23-month-old daughter twice since her arrest on December 9 - in which what at the moment is, he recalled, "the only active policy” retained for this case.

While in Brussels the judicial part of the Qatargate, in Strasbourg, MEPs returned this week to discuss tougher rules to improve controls and transparency of the institution. In a sign that the problem is not necessarily in reinforcing the rules, but perhaps rather in complying with the existing ones, it has been known that, since the outbreak of the Qatargate ―but especially in these first weeks of January―, several MEPs have rushed to declare old trips paid for by third parties —countries or institutions not linked to the EU— of which they should have reported as soon as they were made.

Code of conduct

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The European Parliament's code of conduct establishes that this type of travel must be declared —by means of a form that each MEP must fill out and send to the administrative services before publishing it on its website— no later than the last day of the month after the date of the transfer, the same as the gifts received (which also must not exceed 150 euros). The norm, however, has been widely ignored for years.

Among those who have carried out the process late, the Belgian socialist MEP Maria Arena stands out, greatly affected by the Qatargate due to its proximity to the Panzeri. The former president of the Human Rights subcommittee of the European Parliament – ​​a position from which she resigned last week – she only published on January 10 two separate trips made months ago to Lebanon, Qatar and Burkina Faso. Among the at least a dozen MEPs who have published old trips in January is also the Spanish José Ramón Bauzá (Ciudadanos), who until the scandal was a member of the Qatar-EU Friendship Group. On January 12, he recorded a trip made in May 2022 to Bahrain, another two in March to Qatar and the Emirates, as well as one in 2021 to Italy and another to Poland in 2020. The last trips made at the end of 2022, to Arabia Saudi, Indonesia and Israel, registered them within the established time, the same December 9 that the Qatargate.

President Metsola herself has published between January 11 and 13 five trips made last year in which the organizer covered a part of the expenses, generally the hotel. Sources from her team point out that they were specific cases for security reasons, and that the publication, to which she is not obliged, responds to an "unprecedented display of transparency" on her part. In the same way, they point out, she has revealed these days the list of the hundred long gifts received since she assumed the presidency of the European Parliament a year ago now. "They are protocol gifts that she receives on behalf of the institution, they are not personal and she never keeps them," she emphasizes. In the past, they add, other presidents of the European Parliament - and not all, they specify - declared the gifts received at one time at the end of their term, but Metsola "in the current context, he wanted to be as transparent as possible" and has advanced the procedure.

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