Kazakhgate Report: OSI Vindicated

Although we faced con­stant pres­sure from some Belgian media out­lets, we con­tin­ued to report about the so-called Kazakhgate affair, con­vinced that in the end the truth will pre­vail. This is what kept us going dur­ing our long jour­nal­is­tic inves­ti­ga­tion on this topic.

In the process, we have been accused of being part of Putin’s pro­pa­gan­da war against Western democ­ra­cies, or of mount­ing a PR cam­paign to white­wash Uzbek oli­garch Patokh Chodiev.

When they couldn’t deny the facts any­more, they said this: “Although the infor­ma­tion con­veyed by OSI is not false as such, it is arranged in such a way that it leads to mis­in­form­ing the public.”

Now they are proven wrong. Some Belgian politi­cians and jour­nal­ists need to do a lot of soul-search­ing these days.

What the Kazakhgate report says

The Kazakhgate com­mis­sion of inquiry in the Belgian Parliament con­clud­ed its work­ings ear­li­er this April. It vot­ed its report, which was lat­er adopt­ed by the Parliament. Here are its main con­clu­sions (read the entire report here: http://www.lachambre.be/FLWB/PDF/54/2179/54K2179007.pdf):

  1. Patokh Chodiev’s appli­ca­tion for nat­u­ral­iza­tion was approved fol­low­ing the cor­rect pro­ce­dure. There was no bribery, cor­rup­tion, or any oth­er type of undue influ­ence involved in the process. The let­ter sent by Serge Kubla, may­or of Waterloo and Chodiev’s neigh­bor, to the Naturalization Commission had no influ­ence on the out­come of Patokh Chodiev’s nat­u­ral­iza­tion case. (It is worth men­tion­ing that this par­tic­u­lar con­clu­sion was unan­i­mous­ly adopted.)

For many years, Alain Lallemande from Le Soir and Georges Gilkinet, Ecolo MP in the Belgian Parliament (and vice-pres­i­dent of the Kazakhgate com­mis­sion), claimed repeat­ed­ly that Chodiev acquired his Belgian nation­al­i­ty through cor­rup­tion and wrong­do­ing. In spite of what he claimed for so long, Gilkinet endorsed the commission’s con­clu­sion that Chodiev com­mit­ted no crime in the process of acquir­ing his Belgian pass­port. Therefore, he tac­it­ly admits that he mis­lead the pub­lic when he accused Chodiev of wrongdoing.

  1. The law extend­ing the scope of ami­ca­ble set­tle­ment was advo­cat­ed by CD&V (the Flemish Christian-Democrats), by the General Prosecutor’s Office of Antwerp, by the Anwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC, an umbrel­la-orga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing the inter­ests of the dia­mond traders), and was ulti­mate­ly endorsed by the College of State Prosecutors. (The first part of this con­clu­sion was adopt­ed by a major­i­ty of 11 to 2, while the sec­ond part by a major­i­ty of 10 to 2, with one abstention.)

The amend­ment regard­ing the exten­sion of the crim­i­nal trans­ac­tion was intro­duced by Servais Verherstraeten (CD&V), and it large­ly cor­re­sponds with the propo­si­tion that the same MP intro­duced ear­li­er in 2011. (This con­clu­sion was unan­i­mous­ly adopt­ed by the commission.)

OSI is the only inves­tiga­tive media out­let that report­ed on this, long before the com­mis­sion reached the same con­clu­sion (see here:

https://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/belgium/diamondgate-cdv-affair/).

Pattokh Chodiev and his asso­ciates, includ­ing his lawyers (Catherine Degoul and Armand De Decker), had no influ­ence on the leg­isla­tive process and on the sub­se­quent adop­tion of the law extend­ing the scope of the crim­i­nal trans­ac­tion. Equally, no for­eign pow­er (France or Kazakhstan) had any influ­ence on the leg­isla­tive process.

The cou­pling made on 31 January 2011 between the lift­ing of bank­ing secre­cy and the crim­i­nal set­tle­ment was a clas­sic polit­i­cal cou­pling. The inquiry com­mis­sion acquired no evi­dence what­so­ev­er that this cou­pling was made with the inten­tion that a crim­i­nal set­tle­ment would apply to a spe­cif­ic pend­ing case (the case of Patokh Chodiev and oth­ers). (This con­clu­sion was adopt­ed by a major­i­ty of 10 to 1, with two abstentions.)

  1. In the case of the extend­ed set­tle­ment regard­ing Patokh Chodiev and his asso­ciates, the crim­i­nal case was opened in 1996. This 15-year pro­cess­ing peri­od led the Chamber of Counsel to note, in its order of 18 February 2011, that, notwith­stand­ing the com­plex­i­ty of the case, the rea­son­able time-lim­it referred to in arti­cle 6.1 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms had expired. (This con­clu­sion was unan­i­mous­ly adopt­ed by the commission.)

As a con­se­quence, the set­tle­ment agreed between Chodiev and his asso­ciates, on the one hand, and the Prosecutor’s Office in Brussels, on the oth­er, was valid­ly con­clud­ed. (This con­clu­sion was adopt­ed by a major­i­ty of 9 to 4.)

As not­ed, these con­clu­sions were adopt­ed either by una­nim­i­ty, or by very large majori­ties (11 to 2, 10 to 2, 10 to 1, 9 to 4). This clear­ly sug­gests that, inside the inquiry com­mis­sion, the rift between major­i­ty and oppo­si­tion had lit­tle or no influ­ence on the inter­pre­ta­tion of the rel­e­vant facts.

OSI and Kazakhgate

These con­clu­sions coin­cide with the ones OSI reached dur­ing its own jour­nal­is­tic inves­ti­ga­tion. In fact, OSI is the only inves­tiga­tive media out­let that report­ed these con­clu­sions long before the com­mis­sion did, sim­ply because all the pub­lic doc­u­ments and all the oth­er open source mate­ri­als avail­able to every­one clear­ly point­ed to these conclusions.

We were the only ones to report that there was noth­ing wrong with Chodiev’s nat­u­ral­iza­tion request, apart from a fail­ure in the work­ings of the rel­e­vant Belgian insti­tu­tions, which is exact­ly what the inquiry com­mis­sion now admits unan­i­mous­ly (https://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/corruption/failure-belgian-state-story-naturalization-punishment/).

We report­ed that Chodiev’s set­tle­ment with the Belgian pros­e­cu­tors was not the first one that took place after the exten­sion of the crim­i­nal set­tle­ment was vot­ed (http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/corruption/diamonds-banks-politicians-criminal-law-changed-belgium/).

We report­ed on the close links between the dia­mond traders’ lob­by and Belgian MPs (http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/corruption/diamond-club-belgiums-true-lawmakers/).

We were the only ones to report that there was in fact noth­ing wrong with the set­tle­ment agreed between Patokh Chodiev and his asso­ciates, on the one hand, and the Prosecutor’s Office in Brussels, on the oth­er – which is exact­ly what the commission’s report acknowl­edged in its con­clu­sions (https://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/belgium/kazakhgate-patokh-chodievs-settlement/). We also report­ed the details of the set­tle­ment, unlike many oth­er media out­lets (https://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/corruption/truth-chodievs-transaction-belgian-prosecutors/).

Finally, we were the only ones who report­ed that the so-called Kazakhgate affair is a myth, which is exact­ly what the inquiry com­mis­sion now admits (https://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/corruption/kazakhgate-myth-busted/).

In short, we are “guilty” for report­ing the truth to our read­ers, while oth­er media out­lets were busy spread­ing lies and attack­ing our own inves­tiga­tive work.

We are hap­py we put a mir­ror in front of some Belgian inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists. By doing this, we served both our mis­sion of uncov­er­ing unpleas­ant truths, and the gen­er­al inter­est of the Belgian society.

All the media out­lets that cam­paigned against us dur­ing our inves­ti­ga­tion and report­ing have a lot of soul-search­ing to do. They repeat­ed­ly ignored the very basic prin­ci­ples of pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­is­tic report­ing and of pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­is­tic inves­ti­ga­tion, turn­ing them­selves into pro­pa­gan­da machines of disinformation.

They fab­ri­cat­ed and repeat­ed­ly spread the sto­ry accord­ing to which Nicholas Sarkozy, the for­mer French pres­i­dent, and Patokh Chodiev, the Uzbek oli­garch, pres­sured top Belgian politi­cians and gov­ern­ment offi­cials to change the Code of Criminal Procedure so that to become pos­si­ble to enter into trans­ac­tions with the Public Prosecutor to ter­mi­nate the pub­lic pros­e­cu­tion of offences at all the stages of a crim­i­nal pro­ce­dure. As a result, on 17 June 2011 Chodiev was the first ben­e­fi­cia­ry of the amend­ment, by enter­ing into a trans­ac­tion with the Public Prosecutors in Brussels.

They manip­u­lat­ed the facts so that to con­vince their read­ers (often by mere rep­e­ti­tion) that this sto­ry is true.

When OSI began to report on this, uncov­er­ing the real facts and thus con­tra­dict­ing the offi­cial ver­sion of events, they attacked us. They nev­er con­tact­ed us and they nev­er asked for our point of view, as any pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­ist would do. In short, they relied on manip­u­la­tion and pro­pa­gan­da, which is the very oppo­site of inves­tiga­tive journalism.

In so doing, they did a great dis­ser­vice to the Belgian pub­lic and to the Belgian democracy.

We do appre­ci­ate the fact that Alain Lallemand no longer reports about Kazakhgate on Le Soir, after years of spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion and inflam­ing the public’s spir­it on this top­ic. However, this is hard­ly enough.

The same is true about the Ecolo MP Georges Gilkinet. On 17 November 2016, he made this state­ment regard­ing Kazakhgate: “There is also the fail­ure to respect the fun­da­men­tal demo­c­ra­t­ic prin­ci­ples. The sov­er­eign­ty of our state has been vio­lat­ed. It was a neigh­bor­ing State that pressed us to adopt, in cir­cum­stances that we denounced at the time, a law that fun­da­men­tal­ly changed the way jus­tice is done in Belgium. All the three pow­ers have been affect­ed.” (See here, p. 18: http://www.lachambre.be/doc/PCRI/pdf/54/ip139.pdf)

He was, for years, the most vocal politi­cian to sup­port and spread the fake sto­ry accord­ing to which Sarkozy and Chodiev changed the Belgian crim­i­nal law. He was the most ardent sup­port­er of estab­lish­ing an inquiry commission.

Gilkinet has a back­ground in jour­nal­ism. However, he chose to ignore what jour­nal­ism real­ly means, and instead turned him­self into a high­ly effec­tive pro­pa­gan­da machine for the sake of polit­i­cal gains.

In so doing, he gross­ly mis­lead his vot­ers and the gen­er­al pub­lic, and he aban­doned his oblig­a­tion to seek for the truth and to respect the dig­ni­ty and human rights of every per­son, no mat­ter what he might oth­er­wise think of that person.

An oli­garch is cer­tain­ly not a role mod­el. However, not being a role mod­el is not an invi­ta­tion to be abused or to be the sub­ject of fake sto­ries and unsub­stan­ti­at­ed con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, espe­cial­ly when the truth can be eas­i­ly uncov­ered by sim­ply access­ing open source doc­u­ments, like OSI did. This was the moral prin­ci­ple that led OSI to start its own jour­nal­is­tic investigation.

In the end, if OSI was able to uncov­er the truth – a truth that is now offi­cial­ly rec­og­nized in a report adopt­ed by the Belgian Parliament – then any­one else could have done the same. No com­mis­sion of inquiry would have been nec­es­sary. Honest and pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­is­tic report­ing would have been enough.

Now, OSI and its moral and jour­nal­is­tic prin­ci­ples are vin­di­cat­ed. However, we’re not cel­e­brat­ing. Such a sig­nif­i­cant fail­ure from so many Belgian jour­nal­ists and politi­cians is no rea­son for cel­e­brat­ing. On the contrary.

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