Government sacks Belgacom boss Didier Bellens
The federal government announced on Friday evening that they were installing an interim to replace the CEO of state-owned telecommunications concern Belgacom
Telecoms CEO has courted controversy for years
The government, which retains a 53.3% share in the company, held off announcing its decision until after European stock exchanges had closed for the weekend to avoid a sudden plunge in the company’s shares.
Belgacom’s Chief Financial Officer Ray Stewart and Chair Stefaan De Clerck have been put in charge of the company until a new CEO is appointed. De Clerck said he thought that a list of candidates could be drawn up within a few weeks.
Bellens, who had led the company for 10 years, was recently accused of a conflict of interest in a property deal in which he headed a company involved in buying a Belgacom office building on the Zavel in Brussels. Vice prime minister Laurette Onkelinx said recently that Bellens is “addicted to money” to the point that it could be considered “an illness”.
Controversy is nothing new to the telecoms CEO: In 2009, he was suspected of insider trading, while earlier this year he was criticised for his outburst of cursing in a public statement regarding the lack of 4G network services in Brussels.
But Bellens, who earned €2.14 million last year in salary and bonuses, seems to have made his fatal error of judgement last week in a speech at an elite Brussels business club when he compared prime minister Di Rupo to “a little child who comes to get his Sinterklaas present” every year when dividends are paid out. Bellens added to the injury by describing the Belgian government as “Belgacom’s most difficult shareholder”.
The government was reluctant to fire Bellens, 58, as it would be forced to award him an enormous severance payment. But Di Rupo said last Friday that his government did not intend to provide the so-called “golden handshake” since Bellens was fired due to “a serious breach of confidence” and “an accumulation of serious errors”. Analysts expect Bellens to take on a team of lawyers to secure his severance package.
Bellens’ position became increasingly threatened last week as he lost the support of all the main political parties. But he remained convinced that he was the right person for the job. “I don’t want to leave,” he said in an interview with De Standaard published on Thursday. “I have always fought for the interests of the company.” Belgacom’s investors said that Bellens had run the company effectively, while unions voiced their support for their boss.