Judge Claise won’t step down from investigation – POLITICO
The lead investigative judge in the European Parliament corruption probe, Michel Claise, does not want to step away from the case despite calls for him to do so.
The Belgian prosecutor’s spokesperson confirmed Claise’s refusal to step down, as first reported by Le Soir.
His move comes in response to a request for recusal filed Thursday by Maxim Töller, the Brussels-based lawyer for MEP Marc Tarabella. Töller argues that Claise is biased, as allegedly evidenced in text from his client’s arrest warrant.
Belgian law enforcement recently arrested Tarabella, who joins several others currently detained in the expanding probe into whether foreign countries, Qatar among them, provided cash for influence in the European Parliament.
Former Vice President Eva Kaili, Italian MEP Andrea Cozzolino and former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri are also detained — although Cozzolino is under house arrest in Italy awaiting his extradition hearing, and Panzeri struck a plea deal with police.
Two others — NGO boss Niccolò Figà-Talamanca and Francesco Giorgi, Kaili’s partner and a parliamentary assistant — have also been arrested. Figà-Talamanca has since been released but remains charged, according to a family member.
The request for recusal, and Claise’s decision to disregard it, must now be assessed by the Brussels Court of Appeal. The appeals court should decide within eight days whether or not he may stay on the case.
The fight over Claise’s role could delay the investigation for a significant period of time. The request for recusal already prevented Claise from appearing at the hearings of Kaili and Tarabella last Thursday.
Töller told POLITICO that “he had no other choice but to do this.”
“We don’t want any infringement of the presumption of innocence of Mr. Tarabella,” he added.
Camille Gijs contributed reporting.
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