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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Belgium suspected Chinese spies but could not prosecute

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Belgium has long suspected the Flemish far-right politician to be a Chinese intelligence agent, but there was no legal basis to prosecute him, the country’s justice minister said.

Paul Van Tigchelt told the Financial Times that he believed Frank Kleijerman, then a member of the far-right Flemish party Vlaams Beran, was “being used by a foreign regime” to influence politics. “It’s not a secret,” he said.

But the justice minister said a loophole in Belgium’s 100-year-old criminal law prevented authorities from bringing criminal charges against Kleierman and the other suspects, despite the evidence uncovered by security services. Stated.

“The Brussels attorney general ruled in 2018 that there was no crime,” Van Tigchelt said.

An investigation last week by the Financial Times, Der Spiegel and Le Monde revealed messages showing Mr Kleierman was used as an asset by Chinese spies over a period of more than three years.

The exchange comes after Daniel Wu, an official with China’s Ministry of State Security spy agency, asked Kreierman to influence debates in Europe on topics ranging from China’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong to the persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. This is a record of the circumstances in which the instructions were given.

Kleierman did not respond to questions about the relationship. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was “not aware of the situation.”

Mr Van Tigchelt said Belgian authorities had linked Mr Kleierman to a potential relationship with China in 2018 after being tipped off that he was connected to a network allegedly working for China. He said he noticed a relationship.

“There were accusations [by] our intelligence agency [to the president of parliament]. Yes, apparently there was an intelligence investigation,” Van Tigchelt said.

However, Belgian authorities did not prosecute the case, in part because Belgian criminal law only considers espionage and foreign interference to be crimes related to military matters.

According to Van Tigchelt, Belgian criminal law dates back to 1867 and has not been significantly updated since then. He said Belgium’s parliament is expected to vote on a review of the law, which could come into force as early as next year.

A long-standing member of Belgium’s far-right Flemish Nationalist Movement since 1977, Kleierman served as a member of the Federal Senate from 1999 to 2007 and then as a member of the Flemish Parliament until 2014. He represented Flanders until he was stripped of his party affiliation last week. Wlaams Beran party of the local city council of Mechelen.

An intelligence investigation into Kleierman’s ties to China and possible espionage is underway, according to people familiar with the case. However, it is unclear whether he will be charged with any criminal offense.

“These are things that happened in the past. . . . Criminal law cannot be enforced retroactively,” Van Tigchelt said. He added that criminal investigations are complicated when classified information is involved, but they are not the only weapon against espionage or sabotage.

Van Tigchelt acknowledged that Brussels is of particular interest to foreign governments due to the concentration of international organizations such as the EU and NATO in the Belgian capital. He said: “Many countries, many regimes have a special interest in being here, and we are very aware of that.”

Intelligence experts say Belgium and its National Security Agency (VSSE), which has just 900 employees, is up to the task of cracking down on foreign interference in the country, given the growing threat from China and Russia. It suggests that it is not.

The minister insisted that VSSE was well-equipped to meet the challenge and said it would increase its staff to 1,000. “Yes, the risks of espionage and sabotage can be addressed. . . . Our intelligence operations are being strengthened.”

Van Tigchelt took over in October, replacing former justice minister Vincent van Quickenborn, who resigned after it emerged that Belgian authorities had failed to extradite the man who killed two people in a terrorist attack.



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