BRUSSELS — Lawyers for the main suspects in the Qatargate corruption scandal entered the courthouse Tuesday seeking revenge — and they got it.
More than a dozen defense lawyers managed to postpone the criminal investigation until at least next spring, massively delaying the investigation into Qatar and Morocco’s influence buying in the European Parliament and him inflicting what they hope will be a fatal blow.
Lawyers for former European Parliament vice-president Eva Kaili were the masterminds behind the surprise coup, compiling enough accusations that Belgian prosecutors mishandled the case to warrant an internal investigation, the ruling has ruled. the tribunal. This investigation will focus on how the evidence was collected and whether this violated the parliamentary immunity of the three indicted EU lawmakers.
“It’s no longer Qatargate but Belgium-gate! said Sven Mary, one of Kaili’s lawyers. “The secret services have infiltrated the European Parliament, that goes too far,” he added after a meeting during which the magistrates approved an internal control which will last until May 2024.
Eric Van Duyse, spokesperson for the Belgian public prosecutor’s office, replied: “The public prosecutor and the investigating judge must continue the investigation. » He added: “The interpretation made by the lawyers is considered inconsistent. »
The prosecution indicated that it intended to continue its investigation.
Joining Kaili in his campaign are lawyers for the two other indicted members of the European Parliament, Andrea Cozzolino and Marc Tarabella.
Kaili’s team argued that police and spy agencies acted illegally when they attacked her, disregarding her parliamentary immunity. This argument builds on and incorporates a pre-existing push from Tarabella’s team, which claimed the case was biased due to conflict of interest allegations against former investigating judge Michel Claise.
In a move that could further weaken the prosecution, defense lawyers could now have access to almost all of the evidence collected by police, which could give them more ammunition to criticize the Belgian investigation.
“The chamber ruled that there was a real problem,” said Anthony Rizzo, a lawyer and law professor at ULB, a university in Brussels, who is not affiliated with the case. “This was a sufficiently serious matter to warrant each party having access to numerous elements of the investigation file.
“To my knowledge, this is unprecedented in Belgium for an investigation of this magnitude,” Rizzo told POLITICO.
The lawyers have until March to present their arguments. In mid-May, another session will be convened to assess when the final decision on this challenge will take place.
“The federal magistrate in charge of the case hoped to complete the investigation much earlier than expected, which will obviously delay the case,” added Van Duyse of the Belgian prosecutor’s office.
This new calendar also suggests a possible decision on the future of the suspects just before the European and Belgian national elections in early June.
Kaili’s other problem
In a sign of the growing confidence of Kaili’s defense team, Kaili is using the same arguments against the Belgian prosecution by launching a legal bid to defend his immunity in the European Parliament against any future Qatargate prosecution in the European Parliament.
Kaili asks “to be protected by the European Parliament against the illegal violation of her immunity by the secret services,” her lawyer, Spyros Pappas, told Parliament on Tuesday. For the attempt to succeed, it will need the support of a simple majority of EU lawmakers – a tall order given Kaili’s involvement in an affair that has tarnished the institution’s reputation.
In another development, Eva Kaili herself attended a 30-minute hearing with other MEPs in the European Parliament on Tuesday regarding a separate legal case unrelated to Qatargate, in which she is accused of abusing her official budget by orchestrating a scheme around fake jobs. and bribes.
The European Public Prosecutor’s Office requested that Kaili’s immunity be lifted over the charge, which his lawyer Pappas denied. “There was no intention of fraud,” he said, adding that Kaili owed Parliament an amount “less than” 100,000 euros.
Kaili herself slipped out of the audience through a back door.