An Antwerp-based real estate group, Land Invest, paid private detectives to shadow investigative journalists working on assignment for the Apache independent news website, the site itself has alleged.
The site had previously published an investigation into the close relations between Erik Van der Paal, one of the owners of the property group, and Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever. Among other revelations made together with Knack magazine was the fact that Van der Paal had contributed €18,000 of Land Invest funds to help a certain Joeri Dillen, then De Wever’s chief of staff, to start a lawsuit against Apache regarding previous allegations made by the investigative team.
The investigation alleged that Land Invest had been granted planning permission to build the Lins Tower office block at Tunnelplaats (photo), despite negative advice on the project. The directors of Land Invest were also accused of taking millions of euros from the company’s pension fund without the knowledge of financial overseer Ogeo Fund.
The Association of Flemish Journalists (VVJ) reacted to the revelations of journalists being shadowed by private detectives, described by association president Pol Deltour as “mind-blowing”. Apache alleges photos were taken of its journalists meeting with sources, placing their lawful anonymity in jeopardy.
“This is a fundamental breach of the protection of sources,” he said. “That touches on the very core of journalism.” The association is considering taking legal action.
The issue has also come to the attention of Benjamin Dalle, CD&V minister in the Flemish government for the media. “If these claims are accurate, this is a very serious matter,” he commented. “Press freedom is fundamental, and must be respected at all times. Independent journalism is impossible without respect for the confidentiality of sources. I am counting on the VVJ do do its job and investigate this matter fully.”