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Probe 'ongoing' against Belgium's Reynders

September 15, 2019

Designated EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders faces a Belgian probe into contracts, including an embassy building project in Kinshasa, two Belgian papers say. Reynders has been Belgium's foreign minister since 2011.

Belgien Didier Reynders
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Jacobs

Reynder's office stayed largely mute Sunday after two Belgian newspapers reported a day earlier that public prosecutors in Belgium had begun a "preliminary” probe into allegations of corruption and money laundering.

L'Echo and De Tijd newspapers reported Saturday that the probe began after a former Belgium secret service agent went to federal police in April claiming bribes had been paid linked to public contracts such as the construction of Belgium's embassy in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

L'Echo quoted the prosecutors' office in Brussels as saying the preliminary "investigation is ongoing", after which a decision would be made on whether the evidence was sufficient to proceed against Reynders.

Read more: Von der Leyen's commission line-up

Not aware of probe 

De Tijd quoted the foreign and defense minister, who is also deputy prime minister in caretaker capacity since Belgium's inconclusive May election, as telling the Belgian news agency Belga that he was "not aware of an investigation."

Reynder's spokesman John Hendrickx had on Saturday accused the former agent of trying to "damage" Reynders "again and again," wrote De Tijd, a Dutch-language business newspaper based in Brussels.

Francophone RTBF broadcasting quoted Reynders as saying that he had asked his lawyer to contact the prosecutor's office and "defend his rights" and hoped that "clarity" would emerge "as soon as possible."

Reporters accessed police papers

L'Echo said its reporters had examined police transcripts from a hearing of the former agent, who had worked from 2007 until 2018, mainly on economic cases.

Kickbacks had been laundered by selling cheap antiques and art at high prices, De Tijd claimed in its report. Payments were believed to have come from arms dealers and a Congolese presidential election candidate, it added, citing the former agent's testimony.

Designated for von der Leyen's team

Reynders is one of 26 designated commissioners for the EU's executive body, the European Commission. He was named last week by President-elect Ursula von der Leyen and is due to face suitability hearings before the European Parliament starting on September 30.

Reynders, a trained lawyer,  is set to become EU justice commissioner, responsible for ensuring the rule of law across the bloc.

Congolese president awaited

Reynders is also one of two intermediaries appointed by King Philippe to forge a new coalition government — three months after Belgium's indecisive May election.

Reynders is a Francophone liberal of the Reformist Movement (MR) party led by Prime Minister Charles Michel, who is designated president of the European Council — and set to succeed Donald Tusk of Poland. 

Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi, the new president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) , is due to make an official visit in Belgium starting on Tuesday, September 17.

ipj/tj (Reuters, dpa)

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