22 April 2005
BRUSSELS – An investigation is under way after defunct Belgian airline Sabena was accused of having paid top executives secret bonuses.
On Friday, La Libre Belgique newspaper revealed that around a dozen high-ranking workers received up to double their salaries in payments into undeclared, foreign bank accounts.
Magistrate Jean-Claude Van Espen, who is heading the investigation into whether fraud played a part in Sabena’s 2001 bankruptcy, has ordered experts to look into the payments.
The bonus scheme was discovered when one ex-employee who benefited from it declared unusually high amounts last year, using the ‘Foreign Tax Dodge Law’ to repatriate earnings from abroad.
The One-Time Voluntary Declaration was a year-long tax amnesty designed by the Belgian government to encourage residents to declare earnings stashed overseas without facing criminal prosecution.
According to the ex-Sabena worker, the bonus scheme was designed by the company to encourage executives to stay loyal to it. It started in the 1990s when the investor Swissair became the 49.5 percent shareholder of the company.
A source close to the legal inquiry told La Libre Belgique: “Although we are talking about millions, we are talking about millions of old Belgian francs.”
Investigators still have to determine whether the bonuses were paid out with the full knowledge of Sabena’s administrators and whether they were paid while the company was in financial difficulties.
Van Espen has not ruled out pressing further charges connected to the bonuses.
[Copyright Expatica 2005]
Subject: Belgian news