Wednesday 20 November 1996
THE future of Belgium's Deputy Prime Minister, Elio Di Rupo, hung in the balance last night after MPs decided to set up a parliamentary commission to investigate claims that he sexually abused young boys.
At a two-hour emergency meeting called after the public prosecutor asked for his immunity from prosecution to be lifted, MPs agreed to hold their own internal inquiry as a first step. Under the Belgian constitution, a minister can be indicted only if parliament has agreed to lift his immunity.
The main allegation against Mr Di Rupo - one already examined by the prosecutor - is that he had sex with at least three boys under 16. Mr Di Rupo makes no secret of his homosexuality and is regularly seen in the homosexual bars and night clubs of Brussels, according to the Belgian media.
If the commission of 11 MPs concludes that there is a case for him to answer, Mr Di Rupo's immunity from prosecution will be lifted and he will be committed to Belgium's Supreme Court to answer the charges. This would almost certainly mean his immediate resignation from the government.
An identical decision was reached yesterday by the Wallonia regional government in the case of Jean-Pierre Grafe, a regional minister, who is the subject of similar allegations.
The claims against Mr Di Rupo and Mr Grafe have deepened the sense of national crisis in a country still traumatised by a paedophilia and murder scandal in which at least four young girls have died. Although there is no suggestion of any link between the allegations against Mr Di Rupo and those involving the chief suspect in the paedophilia and murder ring, Marc Dutroux, they have further undermined respect for the Belgian establishment.
Since the bodies of young girls were found buried at Dutroux's houses in southern Belgium in August, public suspicion has grown that the ringleaders must have enjoyed some form of official protection from senior figures in politics and the judiciary to have escaped prosecution for so long.
Yesterday Mr Di Rupo, a French-speaking socialist, insisted that he was innocent of all the allegations, which first surfaced in the country's Flemish-language newspapers. "Not from near or afar have I had anything to do with paedophilia," he told parliament.
According to Libre Belgique, the Francophone daily newspaper, the request to lift Mr Di Rupo's immunity was based on the testimonies of three young men who said they had sex with him when they were under 16, the legal age of consent in Belgium.
The commission will be composed of seven MPs from the ruling coalition of Christian Democrats and Socialists and four from the opposition Liberals and Conservatives. Demands from opposition politicians for Jean-Luc Dehaene, the Prime Minister, to make a statement on the allegations against Mr Di Rupo have so far been rejected.
Newspapers said yesterday that the three young men had made their claims after an appeal from Jean-Marc Connerote, the judge formerly in charge of the Dutroux inquiry, for all those with evidence about paedophiles to come forward.
Mr Connerote made his appeal shortly after being taken off the Dutroux case by the Supreme Court following claims from Dutroux's lawyer that he had shown bias by attending a party given by the families of Dutroux's victims. The decision to take Mr Connerote, one of the few highly respected figures in the judiciary, off the case led to the "White March for Peace" by 325,000 through Brussels in protest at the handling of the inquiry.
19 October 1996: Plea by king as Belgians protest over corruption