BRUSSELS – Belgium, which is the home of the European Parliament, has the obligation ” to all European taxpayers to thoroughly investigate any wrongdoings that might be going on there ” in the EP, the country’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, Vincent Van Quickenborne, underlined in an interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA).
“A mafia state begins when members of parliament, elected representatives of the people, are bribed to hold a discourse and a certain voting pattern, in exchange for money,” he noted.
Asked about the involvement of a second country in the corruption case affecting the EP and a related reference he had made to the Belgian parliament without naming the country, but seemed to talk on Morocco as media reported, he avoided to talk specifically on which country he meant.
However, he noted that “since the first arrests, a first country has been named. Suffice it to say that it isn’t the only country involved. A second country is indeed also suspected of illegal interference. A country that has a history of foreign involvement in Belgian affairs, through its intelligence services.”
At the same time, responding to a question about the statements of Eva Kaili’s lawyers about “torture” she suffered in a police station, the Belgian Minister of Justice emphasised that he cannot and will not comment on individual cases.
“These are being handled by prosecutors that are fully independent and act professionally in compliance with Belgian and European law. Anyone who begs to differ, has access to the court system to appeal any decision with which they disagree,” he pointed out. Additionally, he referred to the time and the different Christmas holidays he spent in a safe place with his family following the threats made by drug lords, talking about a period of “narco-terrorism” in which “the drug mafia is trying to destabilize the state”. But he explained that this will never be allowed to happen.
Below the full interview offered to Eirini Zarkadoula for ANA.
Q: Belgian authorities have uncovered the major corruption scandal that has hit the EP. What is your comment on the issue since your country’s authorities seemed to have acted and not the parliament as somebody could have guessed.
Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, Vincent Van Quickenborne: Our Belgian Intelligence service has laid the groundworks for this investigation. They’ve unearthed the potential foreign interference by bribery in the European Parliament.
Belgium has the honor of being home to this important institution, but we also have the obligation to all European taxpayers to thoroughly investigate any wrongdoings that might be going on there. That parliament should be the untouchable cradle of democracy. If one succeeds in bribing MEPs to have their opinions and votes corrupted in favor of a foreign state, which is now the charge for which suspects were arrested, then the European Parliament loses its moral authority in imposing rules on member states. This worries me very much. It is very corrosive for the trust in the European project.
It appears that the European Parliament has understood that decisive measures must be taken to prevent any future attempts at foreign interference. I hope that it will follow through on this. The independence and incorruptibility of the European Parliament must not be taken lightly. A mafia state begins when members of parliament, elected representatives of the people, are bribed to hold a discourse and a certain voting pattern, in exchange for money. That is the end of the rule of law.
“No stone is left unturned”
Q: Talking to the Βelgian parliament you have mentioned “a country that in recent years has already been mentioned…when it comes to interference.” Could you give us more details on that?
ΑΝ: I won’t go into the details of the investigation. That is up to the Belgian Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office. As you know, since the first arrests, a first country has been named. Suffice it to say that it isn’t the only country involved. A second country is indeed also suspected of illegal interference. A country that has a history of foreign involvement in Belgian affairs, through its intelligence services. It appears that this has happened for multiple reasons. These are very serious indictments. And the people of Greece and indeed the rest of Europe can count on the Belgian judiciary to ensure that no stone is left unturned and that those responsible will be held accountable.
“We’ve entered a phase of narcoterrorism”
Q: It has been the second time that you have been in a safe place following threats against you. How was your Christmas, fοr you and your family, in such a different way and will you continue to chase drug lords despite these threats?
ΑΝ: Christmas was definitely very different. We had to celebrate it alone with our children in a safehouse. No grandparents. No nieces and nephews around. But we made the best of it. And I’m more determined than ever to continue the fight against the drugs mafia. Because I know that the threat isn’t directed against me personally, but against the minister of Justice as a symbol of all the work many thousands of magistrates and policemen are doing in going after these criminals and locking them up. And that’s what we’ll continue to do.
I am still under very serious threat. I am no longer in a safe house with my family, but we are intensively protected. I can’t leave my home without it being scheduled with prior screening, and I’m afraid this situation will last for a long time. The former Dutch Minister of Justice also had to hide in a safe house, around the same time as I had to do. It’s clear that we’ve entered a new phase. That of narcoterrorism. In which the drugs mafia tries to destabilize the state. But we’ll never allow that to happen.
It may seem paradoxical, but the rising level of gang-related violence is precisely because the Belgian justice and police are showing our teeth and biting back. We have dealt a huge blow to organized crime by cracking their encrypted phone network SKY-ECC. It has resulted in over 1.300 arrests, hundreds of high-ranking drug traffickers behind bars and record amounts of drugs being seized in the port of Antwerp.
The infighting between criminal gangs and the threats against me and many others is directly related to the chaos this has caused in the underworld.
We have them on the run, but we mustn’t be naïve. We know that for every drug criminal arrested, there is another one waiting to take his place. Our ultimate goal is to break the business model of these organizations. Today, we seize an estimated 11 percent of the drugs that are entering the Port of Antwerp. If we push that up to 20 percent with additional personnel, stricter security measures and mobile scanners to scan more high-risk containers coming from South America, their business model will be in trouble, experts say. This will allow us to break the backbone of the mafia. Just as Italy has done in the eighties and nineties. It will be a long and arduous battle, but justice will prevail.
“The suspects in the case of corruption in the European Parliament enjoy the same rights and protections by law as any other detainee in Belgium”
Q: Since there are complaints by Mrs Kaili lawyers on “torture” behaviour towards her in a police station last week (between January 11th-13th), is there any comment from your side?
ΑΝ: As minister of Justice, I adhere strictly to the principles of the rule of law. This means that I cannot and will not comment on individual cases. These are being handled by prosecutors that are fully independent and act professionally in compliance with Belgian and European law. Anyone who begs to differ, has access to the court system to appeal any decision with which they disagree. The suspects in this case enjoy the same rights and protections by law as any other detainee in Belgium. They aren’t treated any differently.
I can also say that the prison of Haren in Brussels is brand new. It has only been opened since October. It is one of the most modern and most humane prisons in all of Europe. Prisoners and detainees are provided with a spacious cell equipped with numerous amenities such as a television screen and a private bathroom.
I should know. I’ve voluntarily spent four days there in lock-up as part of a dry-run test phase prior to opening. I am certain that prisoners across Europe and in Greece as well, would feel a certain envy of the living conditions there.