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Luxembourg calls early elections after spy scandal: palace

Luxembourg on Friday called a general election for October 20 after Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker was caught up in a scandal over misconduct by the small wealthy country’s spy agencies, the royal palace said.

“His Royal Highness the Grand Duke decided to dissolve parliament as of October 7, new elections being fixed for October 20,” seven months ahead of schedule but leaving Juncker fully in charge, a statement said.

Eighteen years in power and Europe’s longest-serving leader, Juncker is perhaps best known for chairing the Eurogroup of finance ministers throughout the debt crisis of recent years.

He stepped down from that role earlier this year but after a parliamentary committee alleged illegal phone-taps and corruption for much of the last decade, his governing coalition collapsed nine days ago with opponents saying Juncker had overlooked domestic affairs.

Grand Duke Henri’s decision means that Juncker remains prime minister at the head of his government, rather than serve in a caretaker capacity up to the polls. Parliament too continues until October 7.

The statement said that this was to avoid a “prolonged period” of uncertainty but the decision ran contrary to a recommendation issued Thursday by the country’s top administrative court.

Juncker, 58, is running again for the top job.

With three decades of government experience, he short-circuited a planned censure motion that would have seen his government fall immediately on July 10.

But despite a vow to recommend early polls to the Grand Duke, who heads a tiny country of some half a million people, he refused to resign formally.

Henri called Friday on all the country’s politicians to conduct a “dignified” campaign that would restore a “climate of confidence” among citizens.

Juncker had told parliament earlier that “the intelligence service was not my top priority.”

Critics, though, complained that it was implausible Juncker had not known what was going on within a tiny intelligence community.

An inquiry into the intelligence service SREL was ordered in 2012 after it transpired that it had secretly taped a conversation in 2007 between Juncker and its then-head, Marco Mille.

According to a transcript of that conversation, Mille said his staff had secretly taped a conversation with Luxembourg’s Grand Duke and that the sovereign was in regular contact with Britain’s MI6 secret service.

The inquiry uncovered 13,000 secret files on people and businesses, and illegal wire-taps on business leaders.

It found too that an apparent 2007 counter-terror operation was in fact a front to help a Russian oligarch pay $10 million to a Spanish spy.

Juncker had ordered the operation closed but had not sanctioned those responsible, the report said.

Juncker also allegedly failed to alert the judiciary to a $150-million deposit in 2006 by former Congo leader Pascal Lissouba.

“The commission of inquiry concludes that the prime minister, as head of the intelligence service, not only had no control over his service but also too often omitted to inform the parliamentary control committee or the judiciary of its irregularities, aberrations and illegalities,” the report said.

Juncker’s CSV has won every single election in Luxembourg since its establishment in 1944 except one poll in 1974.