When on 22 March this year the Kazakhgate commission in the Belgian Parliament questioned the former CEO of the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC), Freddy Hanard, it was very shy. No powerful questions were asked. It was as if the members of the commission were afraid to reveal too much of the truth, namely that the diamond traders’ lobby really did make the law in Belgium.
However, when the same commission recently listened to Claude Guéant, former general secretary at Elysee, he was given an entirely different treatment. The commission’s president, Dirk Van der Maelen (sp.a), even called Guéant a liar after the hearing.
This raises a lot of questions regarding the commission’s impartiality and its diligence towards finding the truth.
The commission’s aim according to the law
The so-called Kazakhgate commission – the parliamentary commission investigating the circumstances leading to the adoption and application of the Law of 14 April 2011 on miscellaneous provisions as regards the extended criminal settlement – was established on December 1st 2016.
The commission’s aim was threefold. First, it had to investigate the circumstances leading up to the adoption and application of the Law of 14 April 2011 on various provisions, concerning the extended criminal settlement.
Second, it had to examine the application by the Public Prosecutor of Article 216bis of the Code of Criminal Procedure, in particular as amended by the Law of 14 April 2011 on various provisions, as from the entry into force of this Law until August 20, 2011.
And, finally, the commission had to examine the way in which Patokh Chodiev and Alijan Ibragimov obtained Belgian citizenship. (source: http://www.lachambre.be)
These were – and still are – the commission’s stated goals. Why, then, is it called “Kazakhgate”? Well, simply because those who proposed the establishment of this parliamentary commission – Olivier Maingain (DéFI), Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), Eric Massin (PS), Francis Delpérée (cdH), Dirk Van der Maelen (sp.a), Marco Van Hees (PTB-GO!), and Stefaan Van Hecke (Groen) – wanted it to focus solely on Chodiev’s transaction with the Public Prosecutor in Brussels on 17 June 2011. (source: http://www.lachambre.be)
It would have been unprecedented to create a parliamentary commission to investigate a private individual, and this is why the parliament opted for a more general investigation. However, the initiators of the proposal, especially Maingain, Gilkinet and Van der Maelen, keep pushing for their narrow agenda, practically hijacking the commission and jeopardizing its workings.
Politicians left unquestioned
If the commission’s aim is to investigate the circumstances leading up to the adoption and application of the Law of 14 April 2011 on various provisions, concerning the extended criminal settlement, one would expect that those who initiated the amendment on the extended settlement would be among the first invited by the commission to offer some answers.
On 2 March 2011, the amendment was introduced by Servais Verherstraeten (CD&V) – see here for more details: http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com. It was co-sponsored, in the Chamber of Representatives, by Carina Van Cauter (Open VLD), Gwendolyn Rutten (Open VLD), Raf Terwingen (CD&V), Guy Coëme (PS), Josy Arens (cdH), and Philippe Goffin (MR).
Although the commission exists for five months already, neither Servais Verherstraeten nor the other co-sponsors were invited for questioning. Back in 2011, Servais Verherstraeten was the main supporter of the amendment, as it is clear from a discussion in the Chamber of Representatives on 6 May 2011, for example, when he completely and unconditionally supported the extension of the criminal transaction, being extremely effective in silencing the opposition. (see here: http://www.lachambre.be)
Back then, the main political support for the extension of the criminal transaction came from CD&V and Open VLD, not from MR, as it may seem today.
Servais Verherstraeten is therefore the best person to explain who wrote the proposal regarding the extension of the criminal transaction and why this proposal was introduced as an amendment to the law on various provisions, not as a separate law proposal.
However, although five months have passed since the establishment of the commission, Verherstraeten was never called to answer any questions. By any standards, this is a significant failure.
Political lobby left unquestioned
As revealed by OSI, Verherstraeten was the vice-president of the Diamond Club (“Diamantclub” in Dutch), a group of Flemish MPs created in December 2010, whose aim was to offer parliamentarian support to the diamond traders in Antwerp. The president of the Club was Jan Jambon (N-VA), while the other vice-president was Willem-Frederik Schiltz (Open VLD).
Other members of the Club included Bart De Wever (N-VA), Ludo Van Campenhout (back then Open VLD), Renaat Landuyt (sp.a), Melchior Wathelet (cdH), and Marie-Christine Marghem (MR).
In spite of the fact that we have ample evidence that the extension of the criminal transaction was heavily pushed by the diamond lobby, the commission never investigated the Diamond Club and the actual hijacking of the Belgian parliament by the diamond lobby. This denotes gross negligence on the part of the commission, since it is the commission’s duty to investigate all the circumstances leading up to the adoption and application of the Law of 14 April 2011 on various provisions, concerning the extended criminal settlement.
Société Générale left unquestioned
On June 10 2011, the French bank Société Générale entered into a transaction with the Public Prosecutors in Antwerp, agreeing to pay 40 million euros in order to keep its criminal record clean. OSI wrote extensively about this case here: http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com, here: http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/, and here: http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com.
Remember, the second aim of the commission was to examine the application by the Public Prosecutor of Article 216bis of the Code of Criminal Procedure, in particular as amended by the Law of 14 April 2011 on various provisions, as from the entry into force of this Law until August 20, 2011.
However, the case of Société Générale was never mentioned by the commission, although it was its duty to also investigate this case.
Even worse, we still don’t know how many extended transactions took place between 16 May 2011, when the Law from 14 April 2011 came into force, and 20 August 2011, when the Law was revised.
A matter of time
To sum it up, the commission established to investigate the extension of the criminal transaction failed to investigate the very MPs who introduced the amendment regarding the extension of the criminal transaction.
It also failed to investigate the Diamond Club, a lobby group formed by Belgian MPs favoring the diamond traders and deeply involved in the extension of the criminal transaction, as the case of Servais Verherstraeten clearly proves. We still don’t know how many MPs were part of this group who poses a clear threat to the rule of law.
The commission also failed to investigate the case of Société Générale, the very first transaction that we know of that took place after the Law of 14 April 2011 came into force. Even worse, we still don’t know how many such transactions took place between 16 May 2011 and 20 August 2011, in spite of the fact that the commission had a clear duty to find out.
The commission was established five months ago, on December 1st 2016. Therefore, these are not minor mistakes – but major flaws proving gross negligence on the part of the commission in fulfilling its duty. Like a Belgian journalist recently said, we will need in the near future a commission to investigate this commission.
Plus, there is also the problem of time. The parliament gave the commission three months to write its report. Article 7 of the law according to which the commission was created clearly states that “The commission shall report to the Chamber of Representatives within three months of its establishment, unless the Chamber expressly decides to grant the Commission further time to submit its report.”
These three months have passed long ago – the commission just entered its sixth month of existence – and, as far as we know, there was no public decision of the Chamber to grant the commission more time. As a consequence, there’s a clear possibility that the commission’s works are now illegal.
This is by far the worst negligence on the part of a commission who was established to investigate the extension of the criminal transaction, yet instead chose to call itself “Kazakhgate”, and to infringe upon the constitutional rights of private individuals.
There’s every chance that this commission will be remembered as one of the most incompetent and dishonest parliamentary commission in the history of the Belgian Parliament.