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Four in EU-Qatar bribery inquiry to stay in custody

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Image source, Getty Images

Four people detained by police investigating an alleged bribery scandal involving World Cup host Qatar are to remain in custody.

They were detained last Friday as Belgian investigators found bags containing €1.5m (£1.3m) in a flat, a house and a suitcase at a hotel.

Greek MEP Eva Kaili missed the hearing and will return to court next week.

The court ruled two others should stay in pre-trial detention and a third must wear an electronic tag.

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As the hearing took place in Brussels, it emerged that Belgium’s VSSE state security service had been working on the inquiry for more than a year, with the aid of other European countries.

World Cup host Qatar has strenuously denied any claims of misconduct as unfair and “gravely misinformed”.

Qatar has not been named officially by the prosecuting authorities, who initially referred to a Gulf state. However, the term Qatargate was being widely used by members of the European Parliament as they reacted to the unfolding drama.

Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne told Belgian media that more than one country had been involved in the suspected bribery of members of the European Parliament.

Belgian police released pictures of the €1.5m seized last Friday

Image source, Belgian police

Allegations that bundles of cash were handed over in return for influence first emerged last Friday with the arrest of six people, two of whom were later released.

Belgian police have since released pictures of stacks of euro notes in €200, €50, €20 and €10 denominations in a case that prosecutors allege involved corruption, money laundering and criminal organisation within the European Parliament.

Eva Kaili, 44, was taken to a jail on the outskirts of Brussels and has since been stripped of her role as one of 14 vice presidents of the European Parliament. Her Greek lawyer denied she had done anything wrong and said she had only ever carried out official EU policy.

He also denied allegations that she had accepted bribes amid reports that €150,000 had been found in her Brussels flat.

Sources in Brussels said another €600,000 had been found at the home of one suspect, and another €750,000 in a suitcase in a Brussels hotel room.

Belgian reports suggested that a strike involving prison staff had prevented Ms Kaili from attending Wednesday’s hearing. Another appearance has been scheduled for 22 December.

In a communique, the Belgian prosecutor said the Tribunal of First Instance in Brussels had confirmed that two other suspects should remain behind bars.

Although only the men’s initials were given, the pair have been widely named as Eva Kaili’s partner, Francesco Giorgi, and an Italian former member of the European Parliament, Pier Antonio Panzeri.

Mr Panzeri now runs a human rights group, Fight Impunity, and Mr Giorgi used to work for him a a parliamentary assistant. Mr Panzeri’s wife and daughter were also reportedly arrested in Italy but have not been charged.

The fourth suspect is another lobbyist, Niccolò Figà-Talamanca, who runs a group in the same building as Mr Panzeri. His custody terms involve wearing an electronic ankle tag, so he will be allowed to leave prison.

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