The lawyer for Marc Tarabella (PS) — the Belgian MEP who was arrested on Friday in connection with the Qatargate corruption scandal — has issued a scathing condemnation of his client's treatment by the Belgian authorities, while detailing the 59-year-old's harrowing mental state.
"His situation is unbearable, he takes blow after blow," Maxim Töller said during an interview with Le Soir. "He thinks about his wife, his children, his colleagues. We are condemning him to social death. This preventive detention has put a gigantic label on his forehead."
Töller vehemently rejected accusations made by Italian former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri that Tarabella received bribes of up to €140,000 to support pro-Qatari legislation.
"On Friday and Saturday, I saw a man wrongly accused, weakened, incredibly lonely, who realises that he was an easy target, both for the Socialist Party and for Panzeri," Töller added. "It must be repeated: my client has not changed his line, he is innocent and defends himself against the allegation of having received money from anyone."
An unconvincing case?
During the interview, Töller further elaborated upon the exact allegations made against his client, as well as the details of Tarabella's pre-trial hearing, which took place on Friday and Saturday last week.
"If I rely on the questions that have been asked of him, the investigators are questioning the trip that [Tarabella] made to Qatar in February 2020 and which he had failed to declare to Parliament," Töller explained. "The other element is Panzeri who, on 10 December last year, told the police that he handed over between €120,000 and €140,000 to Tarabella."
Töller added, however, that "nothing new, no new accusation" was revealed over the course of his client's interrogation. He also suggested that Panzeri's allegation that Tarabella took bribes is contradicted by the testimony of Francesco Giorgi, Panzeri's former parliamentary assistant.
"Giorgi himself, in his hearing, claims not to have attended any of these alleged cash handovers, contrary to what Panzeri claims," Töller said.
- Qatar corruption scandal: Panzeri and Giorgi manipulated EP hearing to shield Qatar
- Scandal at European Parliament: Belgian MEP Tarabella accused of receiving €140,000 bribe
Indeed, Töller suggested that, ultimately, his client has been placed in pre-trial detention based solely on the testimony of Panzeri, whose personal credibility and motives are at best — according to Töller — highly questionable.
"Panzeri has every interest, in order to benefit from a reduction in his sentence, to give as much information as possible to the investigators," Töller said. "There is no guarantee that what he is saying is the truth, everything will be fine for him as long as he is not caught in the act of lying. So I doubt that Panzeri will go back on what he said. He accuses Tarabella in the most infamous of ways, where it is impossible to demonstrate that it is not true."
Töller added: "Based on the statements of a man [Panzeri] whose ability to sell himself is known (to Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar and now, to the federal prosecutor's office), we put someone in preventive detention... I would have preferred that we didn't put my client in prison based on the assertions of a person who wants to say things to get out of prison."