Jean-Marie Dedecker, the former judo coach who started his own party, just cannot help making the headlines. This time it became known that he has hired a private detective to look into Foreign minister Karel De Gucht’s private business affairs. De Gucht (Open VLD) and Dedecker are not just opponents, but downright enemies, since Dedecker was kicked out of Open VLD.
Still, Dedecker claims revenge was not his motive. He says he was tipped off about a conflict of interest surrounding the sale-and lease-back operation of a courthouse, which the federal government decided in 2003 and which would have benefited De Gucht personally. However, the private detective did not dig up anything of the sort. De Gucht calls the accusations “ridiculous” and the investigation into it “Gestapo practices”.
This scandal – or rather the lack of it – is nothing new in Belgian politics. What is new is the private detective part. Experts differ on whether this is illegal. Dedecker pleads that, as a member of the opposition, it is his task to check on the government. Moreover, he has lost his faith in the police and justice system. Private investigations are therefore the only option left.
There are, however, some strange details surrounding the contract. One is that Dedecker did not pay the detective in person, but through one of his companies. The other is the fact that the detective also looked into the earnings of De Gucht’s wife and son – clearly a breach of their privacy.
Jean-Marie Dedecker enjoys a good fight against the establishment, but after this episode he will find himself more isolated than ever. All the other parties are unanimous in their disapproval. The Christian Democrats speak of “underworld practices”. Bart Somers, president of Dedecker’s former party Open VLD, states that “true liberals” respect people’s privacy. Even N-VA, the party of Bart De Wever (who once said that their party programmes had “90 percent” in common), now says that “a great distance has grown” between the two of them. Filip Dewinter of Vlaams Belang, hardly a man of the establishment himself, adds that he has had to endure “those practices” himself “too often to approve”.
Dedecker is usually at his best in the underdog position. However, with a party set to get more than 10% of the vote at the upcoming regional elections, he must also consider what comes next. Who wants to join a coalition with a man like Dedecker, who is now considered reckless and unreliable?
And then there is one other thing. Some months ago, Dedecker announced that he had a scandal up his sleeve, which he would reveal shortly before the elections. Was this it? In that case, we all now know the real victim.