Eva Kaili, one of the main suspects in a cash-for-influence corruption probe at the European Parliament, is moving from jail to house arrest pending a trial, Belgian authorities announced Wednesday.
Kaili, a Greek celebrity politician, was among the first to be arrested last December, when authorities revealed a sprawling investigation into whether foreign countries, including Qatar and Morocco, were bribing EU lawmakers.
The so-called Qatargate probe also ensnared Kaili’s partner, Francesco Giorgi, and several other current and former EU lawmakers, including former Italian EU lawmaker Pier Antonio Panzeri — the alleged ringleader of a bribery network who struck a plea deal with Belgian investigators in January.
Since then, all the detained suspects have been released with an electronic monitoring tag, leaving Kaili as the only one in jail. She has maintained her innocence throughout the process.
After Wednesday’s decision, Kaili will soon join her fellow suspects with an electronic tag under house arrest, leaving Haren prison, in the north of Brussels. The transfer process normally takes several days.
Once out, she will head back to her apartment mere steps from the European Parliament — the institution she stands accused of helping corrupt.
“I can confirm to you that Mrs. Eva Kaili can go home because she was put under electronic monitoring by investigative judge Claise,” said Sven Mary, Kaili’s lawyer, referencing the Belgian judge leading the probe, Michel Claise. “At the moment, I don’t want to give any further comment besides that this decision seems only logical to me.”
Giorgi, Kaili’s partner, is also out of jail under house arrest but is not living in Kaili’s apartment, according to two people familiar with the arrangement.
Kaili’s release starts a new chapter in the authorities’ monthslong attempt to sort out who may have been under the sway of foreign governments while working in Parliament. But it doesn’t mean that the process is moving toward a trial any time soon, said Christian De Valkeneer, a professor of criminal law at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.
“It doesn’t presume that the investigation is finished,” he said. In Belgium, De Valkeneer added, being released under electronic surveillance is considered an “extension of the arrest warrant, but with the only difference that the warrant is not executed in a prison.”
Still, the authorities will soon no longer have anyone in jail, raising questions about where the investigation stands.
For months, the prosecutors’ net only widened, as police arrested two more EU lawmakers, Belgian Marc Tarabella and Italian Andrea Cozzolino, as well as an accountant in Italy, Monica Bellini.
But the action has slowed in recent weeks, with no more arrests and the gradual release of suspects to house arrest. Cozzolino and Bellini are also both still in Italy, where local judges have been asking Belgium for more information before making a decision on an extradition request.
Throughout it all, Kaili’s detention has become the subject of heated debate about confinement conditions in the Belgian prison system.
Kaili’s lawyers have kept up a steady drumbeat protesting her detention, even likening her situation to “torture” at one point. They stressed that Kaili had a 2-year-old child at home, and argued the two should be together. Italian European Parliament members also wrote a letter in February denouncing Kaili’s treatment.
Similarly, in Italy, lawyers for the two local suspects, Cozzolino and Bellini, argued it would be inhumane to transfer their clients to Belgium’s jail cells. Essentially, they alleged, Belgian prosecutors wanted to put people in jail until they flip.
Belgian authorities have mostly avoided responding publicly to the allegations about detention conditions.
Deborah Bergamini, an Italian parliament member, recently became the first politician to visit Kaili in jail. In a recent interview, the Italian lawmaker recalled Kaili’s dark description of her early days in jail.
“For the first six weeks, she was in a state of deep desperation and had suicidal thoughts,” Bergamini told POLITICO several days after her visit on March 31. “But after the first six weeks this changed. For the first sixteen hours, there was no running water, she couldn’t wash herself and couldn’t keep warm.”
Kaili, Bergamini said, felt she was being held in jail “as a trophy.” Several times, Bergamini added, Kaili reiterated the refrain: “I am subject to a political prosecution.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Kaili’s team started quickly spinning her move to house arrest as a step forward in the fight to clear her name.
“Eva Kaili comes out of prison with her head high and with dignity, she has not confessed to crimes she has not committed,” said the lawmaker’s Greek lawyer, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos. “She will fight for her innocence until the end.”