De Gucht attacks Dedecker’s “Gestapo tactics”
Party leaders from the opposition and majority alike have united to condemn the decision by Jean-Marie Dedecker, the leader of the Lijst Dedecker party, to employ a private detective to look into the financial affairs of foreign affairs minister Karel De Gucht, his wife and his son.
Renegade politician set private eye on minister’s family
Dedecker, the former Olympic judo coach who was once a party colleague of De Gucht (before he left to team up with the NV-A and then create his own party), claims to have highly-placed sources within the justice system who allege that De Gucht had undeclared interests in the sale and leaseback of government buildings in Veurne.
The main allegation involves a building used by the justice ministry which was sold, Dedecker claims, for a price below its true value, and then leased back by the ministry at the “exorbitant” rate of €1 million a year. In order to substantiate his sources’ allegations without being able to bring them forward for reasons of anonymity, Dedecker admits paying a private detective.
The contract, which specified a rate of €18 an hour and expenses of 50c a kilometre, as well as an upfront payment of €3,000, was drawn up between the detective bureau and a company owned by Dedecker. The detective’s investigation lasted from November last year until this month, and produced nothing in the way of solid evidence.
“I did not employ a private detective to look into the private life of Mr. De Gucht,” Dedecker said. “What he does in his private life is no business of mine. What on earth is so scandalous? I’m fulfilling my role to the full as a member of parliament to scrutinise the government. Somebody has to do it, surely? It is the foundation of our democracy.”
“Unheard of,” commented De Gucht. “Dedecker is an uncouth lout who wants my hide, and isn’t above using Gestapo techniques to get it.” The minister was aware of the detective’s activities for some time, he said, but not the reason for them. “Now it appears he picked through all of my bank accounts and my income sources,” he said. “And not only mine, also those of my wife and [son] Jean-Jacques.”
The detective’s report concludes: “Unfortunately I have to inform you that I have been unable to find a link between Karel De Gucht and the justice building in Veurne”. Regarding Jean-Jacques De Gucht, the 25-year-old son of the minister, who sits in the Senate for Open-VLD, the report had only one line: “In his whole life he has worked only three days officially for Ijsco” [an ice-cream delivery company].
Political reaction was unanimous. CD&V chairperson Marianne Thyssen called it “irresponsible practice that has no place in our political culture.”SP.A chair Caroline Gennez said, “This has no place in a well-functioning state operating the rule of law.” And NV-A leader Bart De Wever accepted Dedecker’s point that a member of parliament has the right to exercise scrutiny over the government, but argued Dedecker had acted “not so much out of civic duty, but more as a way of presenting himself as a sort of Robin Hood.”
On another front, the national union of private detectives (who are strictly controlled and licensed in Belgium) said the investigator in the case had committed “a grave error of professional ethics”. The detective in the case, if he is in fact registered and licensed, could be investigated by the interior ministry, which governs the profession.