Antwerp World Diamond Centre , Servais Verherstraeten, Axel Haelterman, Raf Verstraeten, Catherine Degoul, Patokh Chodiev, diamonds, Kazakhgate
On 14 April 2011, the Belgian Parliament voted a law that amended the Code of Criminal Procedure. According to the law, it became possible as from 16 May 2011 to enter into transactions with the Public Prosecutor to terminate the public prosecution of offences at all the stages of a criminal procedure.
The project of law concerning various provisions entered the Parliament on 24 February 2011. On 3 March 2011, a series of amendments were proposed. Among them was the amendment 18, extending the scope of the criminal transaction: http://www.lachambre.be/.
OSI can now reveal the names and the interests behind this legislative change that shocked Belgium.
Who wrote the amendment and when?
Amendment 18 on the extension of the scope of criminal transactions regulated by art. 216bis of the Belgian Code of Criminal Procedure was introduced by Servais Verherstraeten, back then the leader of the Flemish Christian-Democrats (CD&V) in the House. We will talk about him later. What is important is that Verherstraeten didn’t write the amendment himself: he only introduced it.
So who wrote the amendment? According to some, it was written by Catherine Degoul, the French lawyer of Patokh Chodiev, a London-based Uzbek oligarch with Belgian citizenship, who was on trial for money laundering and tax evasion, and who risked a jail sentence. Degoul sent the draft to Armand De Decker, Chodiev’s lawyer in Belgium and former president of the Belgian Senate. De Decker, using his political connections, managed to persuade Verherstraeten and others to introduce the amendment as drafted and to vote for it. (source: http://www.levif.be/)
However, this story is a fake. The Belgian investigative magazine Apache discovered in 2013 that the amendment was drafted in 2009, under the auspices of the Attorney General of Anvers, Yves Liegeois. The document obtained by Apache was an almost word by word match of amendment 18. Even the arguments developed in the motivation were identical.
The draft 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. (source: http://www.deconsument.com/)
Haelterman and Verstraeten were even invited by the Belgian Senate on 24 March 2011 to give their legal opinion on the amendment they themselves drafted two years ago. Unsurprisingly, their opinion on amendment 18 was positive. (source: https://www.senate.be/)
The fact that the draft of the amendment was well-known and was widely circulated “for a long time” within political and judicial circles was also recognized by Stefaan De Clerck, who in 2011 was the Belgian Minister of Justice. (source: http://www.levif.be/)
The Diamond Club
On 2 December 2010, a number of Belgian MPs founded “The Diamond Club” (“Diamantclub” in Flemish), an informal and secretive group aimed 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. (source: https://www.lachambre.be/)
What the club aimed was to put the interests of the Antwerp World Diamond Centre at the very heart of the Belgian Parliament.
Now it is time to meet Servais Verherstraeten again. You remember, perhaps, that he introduced the amendment 18. Yet he did it not as a simple MP, but as the vice-president of the Diamond Club, a secret group of politicians who were actively defending the interests of the diamond traders in Anvers. And he introduced an amendment that was drafted two years earlier by the lawyers of AWDC.
The AWDC was thankful. The Law from 14 April 2011 was published in the Belgian Official Gazette on 6 May 2011. On the same day, the Diamond Club organized a trip to Anvers, at the AWDC headquarters, for 20 Belgian MPs. (source: http://antwerpen.pvda.be/)
A few months later, on 16 January 2012, AWDC issued a public statement in which the foundation recognized its role and congratulated itself for its “substantial contribution in the creation of new legislation extending the possibilities to conclude an amicable settlement.” In other words, they publicly bragged about them being the ones who changed the law – or, more precisely, being the ones who made the law. Because the diamond sector is the true lawmaker in Belgium. (source: http://www.hetgrotegeld.be/)
As for Axel Haelterman, AWDC’s lawyer, consultant and lobbyist, the man who drafted the amendment 18 in 2009, he totally approved: “”There’s nothing wrong with this way of working. It is a good example of consultations between the legal world and the business world.” (source: http://www.deconsument.com/)
Masters and servants
So where does Patokh Chodiev, the Uzbek oligarch, fit in this picture? Well, he doesn’t. His lawyers didn’t draft the amendment 18. Armand De Decker was never present when the amendment was discussed. Chodiev wasn’t even the first beneficiary of the new law, as OSI already proved: http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/.
However, we have a Kazakhgate Commission in the Belgian Parliament, investigating Chodiev for things he never did. Why? Because a Diamondgate Commission, investigating the methods allowing AWDC and the diamond traders to be the true lawmakers in Belgium, will never happen. Servants never attack their masters – they have too much to lose if they do.
The only reason the parliamentary majority accepted the opposition’s proposal to create the Kazakhgate Commission is because it serves their purpose to hide the real perpetrators. Belgium’s true lawmakers are known to anyone, but are never to be genuinely threatened.