Legal investigators working for the prosecutors’ offices across Belgium will soon be able to check all financial transactions carried out by a person under investigation – right down to parking fees paid for with a text message. According to newspaper De Tijd, justice minister Koen Geens has already been given the approval of his fellow government ministers for the proposal, which would do away with the need to apply to an investigating magistrate in a case for a warrant to check bank records etc.
The plan is to bring a bill before parliament later in the year, after the Council of State has given its opinion on the legality of the proposal. That, however, is by no means merely a formality.
The power is limited to investigations into alleged crimes which, if the person is convicted, would carry a sentence of a year or more in prison. Those include not only fraud and financial crimes, but everything else from burglary to murder – any crime where financial activity could provide evidence.
The new law would also cover companies where payment services are dealt with by a division outside of Belgium, regardless of whether the contract with clients includes a confidentiality clause. Quite how the situation would stand were a foreign company to refuse a request by Belgian investigators is not clear. Another problem would involve enforcing the promise that investigators could only use their powers, at home or abroad, in cases where an identified suspect is being investigated for a specific crime, and would not allow “fishing expeditions” by legal authorities.