Belgian authorities are probing allegations against foreign minister Didier Reynders that threaten to complicate his efforts to be confirmed as the EU’s next justice commissioner.
The state prosecutor’s office in Brussels confirmed on Saturday that it was carrying out a preliminary investigation into claims made by a former member of the country’s intelligence services over claims of corruption and money laundering in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The official inquiries — first reported by Belgium’s L’Echo and De Tijd newspapers — are still at an early stage. Authorities are yet to determine whether the allegations have any foundation.
Mr Reynders’ spokesperson and deputy spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for a comment. The foreign minister was quoted by Belga news agency as denying the allegations and saying that he was not aware of the existence of any investigation.
The revelation of the preliminary probe comes at a sensitive moment, less than a week after Mr Reynders was named as part of the team of incoming European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. He is due to be the commissioner responsible for the justice portfolio, including upholding EU nations’ respect for the rule of law.
Ms von der Leyen’s appointment letter to Mr Reynders tasks him to lead work on a peer review system for checking the independence of countries’ judiciaries and other key aspects of the rule of law. The EU has been roiled by tension over authoritarian creep in some member states, notably Hungary and Poland.
“I want you to focus on tighter enforcement, using recent judgments of the [European] Court of Justice showing the impact of rule-of-law breaches on EU law as a basis,” Ms von der Leyen wrote.
Mr Reynders could face questions when he appears along with other proposed members of Ms von der Leyen’s commission at confirmation hearings at the European Parliament next month.
Mr Reynders, who has been foreign minister since 2011, is one of Belgium’s most experienced politicians and has also held the post of finance minister.
The former secret agent behind the complaint against Mr Reynders approached Belgian police earlier this year, according to L’Echo and De Tijd. The claims relate to allegations of payments from arms dealers and a presidential candidate in the DRC, as well as of alleged corruption linked to the building of Belgium’s new embassy in Kinshasa.
The Brussels state prosecutor’s office confirmed on Saturday that a preliminary investigation was under way but declined to comment further.
Should police decide that there is credible evidence, then the case would be passed to a team of investigative magistrates specialised in dealing with claims of ministerial corruption. They could then open a formal probe.