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Man arrested in Italy over 1991 murder of Belgian deputy PM

Published on April 29, 2020

A 71-year-old man wanted in connection with the assassination of Belgian deputy prime minister Andre Cools nearly three decades ago has been arrested in southern Italy, Belgium’s foreign affairs ministry said on Wednesday.

Cools, also leader of the Socialist Party in Belgium’s French-speaking region of Wallonia, was gunned down in July 1991.

A spokesman for the ministry confirmed media reports of the arrest by Italian police at Veglie in the Lecce region.

The arrested man was held under a European arrest warrant issued by Belgium, spokesman Arnaud Gaspart said without elaborating.

Thirteen years after the killing, six men — mainly of Italian origin — were convicted of complicity in the assassination and given jail terms of up to 20 years.

The two Tunisians who shot Cools dead were tried in Tunis in 1998 and sentenced to 20 years in jail.

Prosecutors say the convicted men took their orders from a political rival to Cools, Alain Van der Biest, who was also charged with complicity but died in 2002 in what was ruled to be a suicide.

The Cools affair exposed the murky heart of the Walloon Socialist Party, which the Flemish newspaper De Standaard described as “a corrupt political apparatus, partly infiltrated by mafiosi”.

Among the politicians called to give evidence during the trial was Willy Claes, who resigned as secretary general of NATO in 1995 and was then convicted in a massive kickback scandal involving the purchase of Italian helicopters.