Luxury yacht makes waves for king in cash-strapped Belgium
A luxury yacht bought by King Albert II is causing controversy after it was revealed that the monarch had not paid VAT on it, as the state budget sinks deeper into the red.
Over the summer, Belgian media reported that the 75-year-old king had paid EUR 4.6 million (USD 6.7 million) for the 27-metre yacht and published pictures of him, wearing shorts, at the vessel's helm.
Newspapers said that the photos, snapped as the yacht entered the Sicilian port of Lipari, contradicted his warnings on Belgian National Day on July 21 about the "increasingly materialistic" nature of society.
National broadcaster RTBF said that the monarch had not paid VAT on the craft in Belgium because it was not registered in the country, or even in Italy, and because it is deemed a military vessel and is therefore exempt.
This means that the king can "retain a captain and two crew paid for by the army, and so by the Belgian taxpayer," said Flemish Greens lawmaker Luckas Vander Taelen.
In a break with media protocol, an RTBF reporter tried to question the royal couple about the yacht during a garden party at Laeken Palace at the end of last month.
"It is very unfair because we have always sailed, since our marriage 50 years ago. We started with a yacht, actually a small boat of two metres long," said Queen Paola, before the palace press service stopped the interview.
A palace spokesman said Wednesday: "Contrary to other heads of state, King Albert paid for his own yacht. He remains head of state 24 hours a day, which justifies the military presence."