The state security service, the Sureté, raised the alarm with the prime minister and justice minister regarding cases where the name of a politician appeared in an investigation into possible espionage.
The figure reported by De Tijd’s investigative reporter Lars Bové, came in a written answer from former justice minister Koen Geens (CD&V) to a question from Vlaams Belang MP Steven Creyelman.
Every year the Sureté deals with around 500 cases involving a possible threat to the security of the state, from espionage, terrorism or any other danger. On average, those cases bring up the names of some 3,500 individuals.
Sometimes the names are those of political figures, especially those who are in a position of power or responsibility where they might be of interest to enemies of the state or the operatives of foreign – often friendly – nations.
That was the case last year in over 360 of the cases dealt with.
The list concerns only politicians who are ministers in any of the country’s governments, members of the various parliaments and members of the European Parliament.
It does not include provincial governors, members of a local authority, party presidents, former ministers or MP or members of the royal family.
In most cases the appearance of the name of a politician is found to be innocent. However in seven cases the alarm procedure was launched because there is some evidence that the person in question has “contributed to the creation of a threat to security,” as the law states.
Then, a note on the circumstances is sent to the justice minister – who has control over the Sureté – and the prime minister, as well as the I Committee, the independent body that carries out scrutiny of the activities of the civilian and military intelligence agencies.
The names of the seven people in question, it goes without saying, are never revealed in public. In most cases, the target is approached and the situation resolved.
“The necessary steps were taken to remove the threat,” says the written answer from the justice ministry.
“The threats on which State Security must focus are not always offences punishable by law. The focus is therefore mainly on removing the threat.”
This can be done, for example, by informing those involved that their activities are being monitored.
The Sureté was careful to emphasise, meanwhile, that the surveillance of politicians is never carried out on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions.
“The holder of a political mandate, like any other citizen, never ends up in the cross-hairs of State Security simply because of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs,” said spokesperson Ingrid Van Daele.
“However, if it turns out that they may be part of the creation of a threat on which State Security has to act, that should be looked at further, as it would with any other citizen.”