Kazakhgate: An Unbalanced Commission

It’s been almost a year since the cre­ation of the Belgian par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sion aim­ing to inves­ti­gate the cir­cum­stances that led to the adop­tion of the extend­ed set­tle­ment law. Normally, its work­ings should have been con­clud­ed by now. Instead, it lost two experts, it was marred in scan­dals con­cern­ing press leaks, and it failed to come up with at least some pro­vi­sion­al con­clu­sions. Yet it still con­tin­ues to meet, and its mem­bers con­tin­ue to be paid for more and more unclear reasons.

Since its cre­ation in December 2016, the com­mis­sion inves­ti­gat­ed only two issues: the pos­si­ble influ­ence of France and of the so-called Kazakh Trio in the adop­tion of the law, and the pos­si­ble influ­ence of the dia­mond traders’ lob­by in the same matter.

Only a few short months were devot­ed to the dia­mond lob­by – the rest of the time was ded­i­cat­ed to the Trio, which clear­ly proves a very unbal­anced inves­ti­ga­tion. This is espe­cial­ly true when we con­sid­er the evi­dence the com­mis­sion gathered.

On the one hand, the com­mis­sion found no evi­dence that the Trio inter­fered in any way with the leg­isla­tive process. Dirk Van der Maelen, the commission’s pres­i­dent, declared this July: “At any rate, we have not been able to find any­thing that points to the inter­fer­ence of Armand De Decker or oth­er peo­ple relat­ed to Chodiev in the leg­isla­tive process. They did not come into action.” This, how­ev­er, didn’t stop the com­mis­sion to keep focus­ing on Chodiev.

On the oth­er hand, the com­mis­sion found plen­ty of evi­dence that the dia­mond lob­by did inter­fere with the leg­isla­tive process on a grand scale. In the same inter­view, Van der Maelen added: “The fathers of the law expand­ing the ami­ca­ble set­tle­ment are the dia­mond sec­tor and the College of General Prosecutors.” In oth­er words, the dia­mond sec­tor didn’t only inter­fere with the process – it fathered the law. However, the inves­ti­ga­tion on the dia­mond lob­by began in late March and stopped short at the end of June. Since then, the com­mis­sion re-focused on Chodiev.

This brings a lot of ques­tions, since it looks like a mas­sive cov­er-up. There is no oth­er log­i­cal expla­na­tion for the fact that the com­mis­sion chose to abort a lead on which they had plen­ty of profs and to focus instead on a dead lead.

The com­mis­sion was shocked to dis­cov­er that the draft law was writ­ten by Axel Haelterman and Raf Verstraeten, both law pro­fes­sors and lawyers work­ing with the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC), an umbrel­la foun­da­tion rep­re­sent­ing the inter­ests of the dia­mond traders in Belgium. Both law pro­fes­sors then plead­ed in favor of the law in front of the Belgian Senate, while being paid by AWDC for their pub­lic endorse­ment of the law..

AWDC even con­grat­u­lat­ed itself in January 2012, in a pub­lic state­ment, for its “sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tion in the cre­ation of new leg­is­la­tion extend­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties to con­clude an ami­ca­ble settlement.”

However, in spite of the fact that AWDC didn’t ful­ly coop­er­ate with the com­mis­sion, refus­ing to pro­vide it with rel­e­vant doc­u­ments, the com­mis­sion didn’t push any further.

When Chodiev’s lawyers declared that their client will not come in front of the com­mis­sion, Van der mae­len went berserk, threat­en­ing Chodiev with legal action. Yet when AWDC refused to pro­vide the com­mis­sion with rel­e­vant doc­u­ments, noth­ing hap­pened. The com­mis­sion sim­ply moved along and decid­ed to re-focus on Chodiev instead. By all stan­dards, this dif­fer­ence of treat­ment is high­ly questionable.

To make mat­ters worse, the com­mis­sion didn’t even try to inves­ti­gate Diamond Club, an infor­mal and secre­tive group cre­at­ed in December 2010 and aim­ing to offer par­lia­men­tar­i­an sup­port to the dia­mond traders in Anvers. The pres­i­dent of the Club was Jan Jambon, and the vice-pres­i­dents were Willem-Frederik Schiltz and Servais Verherstraeten. All the Flemish MPs were invit­ed to join the club. “We want to unite in the “Diamantclub” all the politi­cians who defend the val­ues and the inter­ests of the dia­mond trade,” the invi­ta­tion said.

The man who intro­duced to the Belgian Chamber of Deputies the project of law con­cern­ing the exten­sion of ami­ca­ble set­tle­ments was Servais Verherstraeten, Diamond Club’s vice-pres­i­dent. Verherstraeten was not even once sum­moned to tes­ti­fy before the inquiry com­mis­sion. Diamond Club was nev­er a mat­ter of inquiry, although its very exis­tence rep­re­sents a clear break of the con­sti­tu­tion­al man­date of Belgian MPs.

Everything so far sug­gests that the inquiry com­mis­sion is doing its best to pro­tect the dia­mond traders’ lob­by and to save the rep­u­ta­tion of those MPs who were part of the Diamond Club. In so doing, the com­mis­sion fails to act in full hon­esty and integri­ty, as demo­c­ra­t­ic stan­dards require it to act.

What was the real pur­pose of the com­mis­sion? To find the truth? To find a scape­goat? To pro­tect MPs from a real inves­ti­ga­tion? If truth was the pur­pose, it spent too much pub­lic mon­ey and too much time for nothing.

Kazakhgate: An Unbalanced Commission

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