Scandal at European Parliament: Tarabella to remain in pre-trial detention

Scandal at European Parliament: Tarabella to remain in pre-trial detention
Credit: Belga

Marc Tarabella, the Belgian MEP who is currently under investigation by the Belgian authorities in connection with the so-called Qatargate corruption scandal, will remain in pre-trial detention for another month.

The decision was taken by the Brussels Chamber of Indictments (La chambre des mises en accusation de Bruxelles) on Friday, and later communicated to Belga News Agency by Tarabella's chief defence counsel, Maxim Töller.

"We will continue to fight to get an innocent person out of prison," Töller said in a statement. "After all, we continue to remind you that Marc Tarabella is innocent, has nothing to blame himself for, and has never received money or gifts in exchange for his opinions."

The statement did, however, note that Tarabella has been transferred to another prison closer to his family home. Töller had previously described his client as "weakened [and] incredibly lonely" after a prison visit last month.

Tarabella was arrested last month by the Belgian authorities, just days after his immunity was formally suspended by the European Parliament. In January, he was officially expelled from both his centre-left EU parliamentary group (S&D) as well as his political party in Belgium (PS).

Belga News Agency also reports that Eva Kaili, a Greek former Vice-President of the European Parliament who is similarly implicated in the Qatargate scandal, will remain in pre-trial detention for another two months. Her lawyer, too, has openly complained about the conditions in which she is being detained, describing them as akin to "medieval torture".

An unreliable witness?

Among other allegations, Tarabella has been accused by Italian former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri of accepting illicit funds of up to €140,000 to support pro-Qatari policies, with the aim of paying up to €250,000 to Tarabella by the end of the latter's parliamentary term in 2024.

Panzeri has been held in police custody since his arrest in December. In January, the 67-year-old signed a so-called "repentance agreement" with the Belgian authorities, according to which he agreed to collaborate with investigators in exchange for a reduced prison sentence. Panzeri's former parliamentary assistant, Francesco Giorgi, Kaili's current partner, has also confessed to accepting bribes, although he is not formally collaborating with the Belgian authorities.

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Tarabella's legal team has repeatedly questioned Panzeri's motives and reliability as a witness. "There is no guarantee that what [Panzeri] is saying is the truth; everything will be fine for him as long as he is not caught in the act of lying," Töller said last month. "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 the allegations are not true."

Töller added: "Based on the statements of a man [Panzeri] whose ability to sell himself is known, 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."

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