23 March 2005
BRUSSELS – A leading Belgian magazine has accused the husband of justice minister Laurette Onkelinx of abusing his position to win lucrative state contracts.
Marc Uyttendaele, a constitutional lawyer married to the justice minister, has denied the allegations and has said he may sue Knack over the article.
On Wednesday, Knack claimed Uyttendaele’s legal firm Uyttendaele, Gerard and Doutrelepont was being awarded dozens or even hundreds of state cases in front of the Council of State and the Arbitration Court.
The firm also represented an unusually high number of public authorities at court, such as the Wallonia Government, the French-speaking Community, the federal public services, the Brussels Region and several socialist-run communes.
Knack calculated the company made EUR 1.5 to 2 million just from the cases in the Council of State and the Arbitration Court and said that it was thanks to the state contracts that the law firm had grown from five partners to 20 since 2000.
The journalist claimed it was difficult in the Council of State to find cases represented by any other legal firm.
“Even the smallest cases go to the office of Uyttendaele-Gerard-Doutrelepont,” claimed Knack.
The Flemish magazine also accused the Justice Minister’s office of assigning cases to Onkelinx’ husband which involved entirely Flemish issues, instead of handing them over to a Flemish law firm.
The morning the magazine was published, Uyttendaele said he had not been given the chance to comment on the allegations.
The journalist had, he said, simply contacted a few customers and spoken to them under another pretext.
Uyttendaele said it was true that his firm and he had represented several public authorities since 1989, but said they were not just socialist-run bodies.
He said his firm was frequently consulted by Liberal, green and, prior to 1999, Christian social democrat ministers.
He condemned the “fantastical” figures of EUR 1.5 to 2 million given by Knack for just the Council of State and Arbitration Court cases.
“The latest total available shows a turnover of EUR 1,179,000 for the year 2003,” he said.
He also strongly denied handling solely Flemish cases, stating his firm was only involved in cases where a francophone interest was connected.
Onkelinx told La Derniere Heure her office had never assigned cases to her husband.
“Some cases are assigned to his associate, usually almost exclusively concerning cases which have to go to the Arbitration Court,” said Onkelinx.
“These decisions are taken in the cabinet meetings and the fees for 2004 didn’t make up more than 3.3 percent of the fees paid by the Justice Department.”
[Copyright Expatica 2005]
Subject: Belgian news