Brussels wants to take over former NATO HQ for major trials
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Brussels wants to take over former NATO HQ for major trials

The old NATO HQ comes with security features in place. © NATO

Representatives of the Brussels justice system have asked federal justice minister Koen Geens to be allowed to hold major trials in the former headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

Geens (CD&V) has already given the go-ahead for the campus to be used for the trial of the people suspected of organising and carrying out the terrorist attacks in Zaventem and Brussels in March 2016.

The logic there is that the trial will involve so many suspects and their lawyers that there is not a courtroom in the Justice Palace in Brussels large enough to accommodate everyone.

The same logic applies even more now, with measures in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19. While few trials will ever involve as many participants as the 2016 terror trial, the sanitary measures now mean that space is even more cramped.

The NATO HQ, meanwhile, has been rehoused to new, larger premises just across from the old one, in Haren, on the main road to Brussels Airport.

The old campus, as well as offering more than sufficient space, including office space and more than one auditorium, also has the advantage of massive security measures already in place, including security cameras, checkpoints, concrete road barriers and more.

We did indeed receive that request recently,” Sieghild Lacoere, spokesperson for Geens, confirmed to De Tijd.

“This type of dossier involves many different aspects: safety, technical adjustments, budgets, permits, and so on. At the moment we are working very hard to investigate all these aspects.”

The proposal has the support of all of the major judicial institutions in Brussels, the paper says. And it comes with a shopping list.

The various instances – appeal court, prosecutor’s office, federal prosecutor, Cassation Court – have suggested NATO would be suitable for the appeals trial regarding the 2010 Buizingen train crash, recently postponed for corona reasons, as well as the trial of a ring of Roma car thieves, and that of the Belgians accused of involvement in the terror attacks in Paris in 2016.

The keys of the old HQ have been returned by NATO, and are now in the hands of the justice ministry, which intended to make the site available to the defence ministry, which used to have a base directly opposite.

However the changes that will be necessary for the March 2016 trial will cost an estimated €24 million – a large sum of money to be spent on a single event, those seeking to take over the site could argue.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times