Qatargate, the investigation into possible corruption in the European Parliament, has hit a major road block as defence lawyers claim fundamental legal procedural errors have been made.
If the lawyers’ arguments are proven correct, the whole case could be in jeopardy and may be rendered void.
When Qatargate broke, the then Vice President of the European Parliament Eva Kaili was implicated after large amounts of cash were found at her residence, allegedly bribes coming from Qatar and Morocco.
The Greek MEP was immediately arrested and charged with corruption on December 9, 2022 but Kaili’s legal team says this happened illegally as her arrest and investigation took place without the lifting of her immunity.
One of her defence lawyers, Sven Mary, claimed there was already an investigation running long before, with police and the Secret Service of Belgium infiltrating the European Parliament. That, he says, violates fundamental rules regarding European Parliamentarian immunity, as prosecutors only sought to lift that immunity for Kaili upon her arrest and not prior to it.
“Federal prosecutors were unwilling to lift her immunity, an essential part in order to prosecute an MEP,” Mary told Belgian VRT NWS on September 19.
“In June 2022, a judicial investigation was initiated, involving wiretapping techniques and observations that, in our opinion, are not legally valid. We request the court to now verify this.”
The procedural argument has caused the Belgian court to decide to put the investigation on hold. It also means that all suspects can now look into the files of the 25,000 pages-long case for the entire duration of the procedure before the Court of Indictment, possibly giving defending lawyers new avenues to pursue.
While the court examines the lawfulness of the procedure, it cannot take any new investigative decisions over Qatargate, Kaili’s lawyers claim.
The federal prosecutor further asked the Court of Indictment to examine the role of former lead investigative judge Michel Claise. He was forced to recuse himself from the case amid allegations of a conflict of interest.
Claise and Marie Arena, another MEP named in the case and who has close connections with all suspects, have known each other for at least five years and had friendly relations. Their sons worked together in BRC&Co.
The entire ordeal means that the alleged corruption case regarding the European Parliament will be postponed until May 14, 2024, just weeks before the European elections.
A verdict on the lawfulness or otherwise of the procedure is expected as late as September 2024.
“I expect that the law will be applied,” Mary insisted, “and that the entire case against Eva Kaili will be declared void.”
Other suspects’ defence teams followed suit. Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella’s lawyer said he wanted “a thorough verification” of the procedures and called the legal situation “problematic”.
Kaili had to attend a hearing at the European Parliament in another legal case on September 19. There is “a suspicion of fraud detrimental to the EU budget, in relation to the management of the parliamentary allowance”, according to the European Public Prosecutors Office.
It is seeking to lift Kaili’s Parliamentarian immunity over the case but, according to POLITICO, her lawyers said there was no intention of fraud and stressed the accusations in this separate case relate to “less than €100,000”.
— Mihaela Gherghisan Naum (@GherghisanM) September 19, 2023
Qatargate is the investigation into alleged efforts by Qatar and Morocco and possibly other countries to influence parliamentary decisions with bribes. Alongside Kaili, the case has also led to the arrest of former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri and Tarabella, who has since been released on bail.
Belgian police reportedly seized bags of cash amounting to €1.5 million from the private residences of suspects.