Reynders and Leterme face Fortis commission

11th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Finance Minister and the former PM have appeared before the parliamentary committee looking into the the bank's sale.

"I never put pressure on the judiciary"

Finance Minister Didier Reynders was heard in the afternoon, followed by former PM Yves Leterme.

"I have no problem appearing before the Fortis commission," said Reynders at the hearing. In fact, he said that he was, happy to be able to defend himself.  "I never put the judiciary under pressure," he Reynders.

After Reynders it was the turn of former PM Yves Leterme to be questioned.

Also, former defence minister Jo Vandeurzen was questioned by the Fortis commission.

According to Vandeurzen he was just doing his job. Possible political meddling in connection with the Fortis case did not come to light.

The commission is trying to determine what happened behind the scenes in the lead up to the sale of Fortis to BNP Paribas and what the nature was of the contacts between the government of the PM (at the time Yves Leterme) and the judiciary.

A parliamentary investigation commission was set up to investigate allegations of political meddling with the judiciary regarding the sale of Fortis to BNP Paribas in October. A group of disgruntled shareholders took up their grievance of not having been consulted with a court. An appeals court finally ruled in their favour and ordered the sale to be suspended, pending a vote by the shareholders. At the end of December, when allegations came to light of inappropriate contact between politicians and the judiciary and possible attempts to influence the court ruling, the prime minister at the time Yves Leterme and his justice minister Jo Vandeurzen resigned their posts.

"I never contacted magistrates"

Leterme largely repeated what he wrote earlier in a letter to Parliament.

Neither he nor his chief of staff had tried to exert influence on the process of law.

Leterme places most of the blame at the door of the office of Finance Minister Didier Reynders (Francophone Liberal).

The former Premier received clarification on three occasions, but says he did nothing with this information.

Leterme claims Mr Reynders's office was aware of the recommendation that the public prosecutor's office intended to formulate with regard to the sale of Fortis.

His account is contested by the Finance Minister.

More consternation

Paul Blondeel, the presiding magistrate at the appeal court, surprised lawmakers by producing a letter in which he claimed that the contents of the public prosecutor's recommendation had been leaked.

The parliamentary commission later said that there were indications that Blondeel had violated professional confidentiality rules because he posted his letter to the general prosecutor of the Supreme Court, the Court of Cassation.

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