Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Heart of Darkness: Antiquities Involved in Money Laundering Case?

It is reported that Belgian authorities are investigating allegations against the country’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defense, involving possible corruption and money laundering related to several government contracts, what is interesting is that the antiquities trade is implicated in these allegations (Imelda Cengic, 'Belgian foreign minister accused of laundering money “by selling high-value works of art and antiquities at excessive prices”...', Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Tuesday, 17 September 2019):

According to De Tijd, the Brussels public prosecutor's office opened an investigation against Didier Reynders after a former secret agent accused him of bribery connected to a number of government deals, such as the construction of the Belgian embassy in DR Congo. The former agent also reported other bribes related to arms dealers and Congolese presidential elections, naming individuals and companies involved in various frauds. The agent said that the money was received or laundered by selling high-value works of art and antiquities at excessive prices. He claimed that an antiquarian told him that he provided services to Reynders that allowed him to allegedly launder a bit less than one million US dollars.
Reynders' spokesperson denies the allegations, prosecutors will announce whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed against the FM. A local newspaper reports (Lars Bové, 'Le parquet enquête sur des allégations de corruption visant Didier Reynders', L'Echo 14 septembre 2019) [my translation]:
Our editorial staff was able to consult, however, five secret reports that the former State Security agent wrote during his years of office. These notes, recorded in the database of the state intelligence agency, go back to the years 2009, 2010 and 2011. They confirm that the former agent pointed already the alleged practices of corruption denounced today to justice. These five secret state security reports already mention a series of names as well as "tricks" to launder money from corruption (fake transactions in the art market). The five reports are confidential official documents of the State Security. But they have no value of proof. They contain "raw information" that State Security collected from various informants. One of these notes states that one of the informants is a senior public servant in a relevant federal public service. As far as we know, the State Security did not transmit this information to the Justice at the time. The reaction of John Hendrickx, spokesman for Reynders, is brief: "This is probably again a montage from the same malevolent man who is constantly trying to harm." Didier Reynders is currently running for the post of European Commissioner for Justice.
Which I think may provide a context for these damaging allegations. My bet is they will prove to be unfounded, though I think we would like to know more about the Minister's transactions in antiquities.

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