Belgium probes engineer's death in Russia

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Belgian investigators want to talk to their Russian counterparts about the death of a steel executive in Moscow and to interview his driver, who reportedly saw the fatal fall, officials said Wednesday.

The federal prosecutor's office said it has opened a routine investigation into the death last week of Belgian research scientist Bruno Charles De Cooman, who died in a fall from his high-rise apartment building.

Eric Van Der Sypt, spokesman for Belgian federal prosecutors, said there is no reason at this point to doubt the approach of Russian officials, who are reportedly working on the premise he committed suicide and are not treating it as a criminal case.

"We opened an investigation because it was a violent death," Van Der Sypt told AFP.

"We will contact the Russian investigators. We have a cooperation agreement with the prosecutors in Moscow," he said.

"We'll see what they see in their files," he added. "We're trying to gather as much information as possible.

"The driver is Belgian. It seems logical to us that we talk to the driver when he returns home. But we have no idea when," Van Der Sypt added.

Russian news media quoted the driver as saying he saw De Cooman falling from the eighth-floor floor window of the building on Serafimovich Street on the opposite side of the Moskva river from the Kremlin.

But De Cooman's family voiced suspicion about the circumstances surrounding his August 29 fall and his mother expressed doubt that he committed suicide.

- 'I want to know the truth' -

His mother Marie Madeline Meunier told Belgian broadcaster RTL that her son left work unusually around noon and asked his driver to wait for him below the entrance to the building, saying he would not take long.

Meunier said she is convinced people were waiting for her son upstairs.

"They knocked him out and threw him out the window," she told VTM television, a Flemish network. "I want to know the truth and it's in the hands of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin," she said.

De Cooman, a former professor at the University of Ghent in Belgium, had been vice president of research and development at the Russian group Novolipetsk Steel (NLMK) since 2017.

"Bruno De Cooman's death is an enormous loss for the Group and the entire sector, for his friends and family," said Grigory Fedorishin, NLMK Group President.

"He has made an invaluable contribution to the development of global steelmaking through product innovation."

Meunier said Belgian investigators must interview the driver and obtain her son's phone to study his call log.

TASS news agency quoted a source as saying no traces of a struggle were found during a preliminary search of the businessman's flat.

Russia's investigative committee declined to comment when an AFP journalist phoned staff on Tuesday for more information in the case.

A source close to the case told TASS that Russian investigators were working on the premise that De Cooman committed suicide.

However, several Russian media outlets said no suicide note was found.

NLMK is owned by Vladimir Lisin who Forbes lists as one of Russia's wealthiest oligarchs. The group employs about 2,500 people in Europe, with about 1,000 in Belgium.

© 2018 AFP

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