Eliane Liekendael, Belgium’s first-ever female prosecutor-general, has died at the age of 90, her family said. Liekendael was closely linked to two of the biggest cases in Belgium in the 1990s – the case against serial kidnapper, rapist and killer Marc Dutroux and associates; and the investigation into illegal contributions made to socialist politicians by the aircraft manufacturer Agusta-Dassault in return for lucrative government contracts.
Born in Etterbeek in 1928, Liekendael began her career in Brussels in 1955, having graduated from the Free University ULB. She then moved to Mons, and was appointed to the Cassation Court in 1978. She became prosecutor-general at Cassation in 1998.
Her main contribution to the Dutroux case – the Cassation court deals with matters of government actions rather than criminal prosecutions – was the removal from the case of investigating magistrate Jean-Marc Connerotte, who had attended a spaghetti dinner organised to raise funds for one of Dutroux’s surviving victims, Laetitia Delhez. This was interpreted as partiality, and Connerotte was removed. The decision angered both the relatives of the victims and the general public. Connerotte was seen as a sympathetic but rigorous investigator, while his replacement, Jacques Langlois, never attained the same level of public confidence.
In the other major case in which she was involved, prominent members of the French-speaking socialist party PS accepted illegal party contributions from the helicopter company. In the case of Guy Spitaels – arguably the most prominent PS socialist of his time – she demanded the Walloon parliament and the French Community lift his parliamentary immunity. Both he and Guy Coëme were found guilty, but neither went to jail, although their careers were ruined.
In the wave of heightened emotion (and it must be said, paranoia) surrounding the Dutroux affair, Liekendael was also faced with cases brought against two other politicians: Elio Di Rupo, later to become prime minister, and Jean-Pierre Grafé, both accused of having sexual relations with underage boys. The cases against both men were dropped without charges.