Top Belgian cop quits after Interpol lobbying row

6th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

The head of Belgium's federal police announced Sunday he was resigning following a storm over reports of lavish overseas travel expenditures to lobby for a top job at Interpol.

After four years in charge, Fernand Koekelberg blamed "an insufferable accumulation of insults and injuries which have worn down my resistance, both physical and psychological".

He said he had informed the Belgian interior and justice ministers of his resignation as of Monday.

Koekelberg said "repeated attacks" on his "honour" had damaged the image of the Belgian federal police and that he chose to go rather than let the force suffer further.

Current stand-in Paul Van Thielen will take over in a caretaker capacity.

The resignation follows a flood of negative publicity in the Belgian press, with the Dutch-language daily Morgen and French-language counterpart Le Soir each putting the boot in last week.

Koekelberg was heavily criticised for taking part of his entourage on a publicly-funded trip to Qatar at a cost of more than 92,000 euros, which politicians and newspapers said was to push his Interpol candidacy.

Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme told national media on Friday that "it would have been better" had Koekelberg "respected the rules and used taxpayers' money in an appropriate manner," although he did not echo calls from various parties for the police chief's resignation.

The commissioner, who was already on sick leave, made no reference to the trip in a lengthy statement displaying signs of distress.

Belgium has been run by a caretaker government, with ever-tighter room for budgetary manoeuvre, since elections last June that drove a massive wedge between French and Dutch-speaking populations, despite a youth movement calling for compromise.

© 2011 AFP

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