Flemish minister Hilde Crevits has decided to freeze a series of payments to the organisers of the music festival Pukkelpop while a judicial investigation is under way into their finances.
It was decided earlier this year that because of the health situation in Belgium, the festival would not take place, as happened last year for the same reason.
By then the Flemish government, in the person of economy minister Crevits (CD&V) had approved an advance towards expenses of €1.8 million. The advance was approved, but has not yet been paid out.
In August, once the decision to cancel was definitive, Crevits agreed the festival had the right to the advance, for expenses that had already been paid for a festival that was cancelled through no fault of the organisers.
“The organisation had to be able to deal flexibly with the changed conditions. But if suddenly thousands of extra people had to be tested, it would have been practically impossible to organise. The investigation has now shown that this was the case for Pukkelpop', she said at the time.
Now, however, the prosecutor’s office in Limburg has opened an investigation into the organisation’s finances, following revelations on a local website.
In essence, €3.7 million appears to have gone missing when the organisation, The Factory, was restructured from a non-profit to a closed partnership. The non-profit had assets of €7.7 million, which by law can only be used for social purposes.
But the partnership now reports reserves of only €3.9 million. Until that is clarified, the payments are suspended.
“The assessment of the file will be postponed until there is clarity about that judicial investigation,” Crevits said.
“We want to avoid possible interference," she told the economy committee of the Flemish Parliament.
Pukkelpop organiser and flagship Chokri Mahassine described the allegations as ‘defamatory allegations’ which he denied ‘emphatically’.
"We also hope that the prosecutor's office will act as soon as possible so that this case can be cleared up. It goes without saying that our organisation will answer their questions in complete transparency and provide all possible information,” he said.
“We have asked for an official report to be drawn up in response to the content of the report on the website. We will check this in the coming days and, as the prosecutor's office, stick out our feelers together with the police services to see if there are any irregularities," said Pieter Strauven, spokesperson for the Limburg public prosecutor's office on Thursday.