Brussels court throws out all charges against polar explorer

Brussels court throws out all charges against polar explorer
Alain Hubert at the South Pole. © International Polar Foundation

A court in Brussels has dismissed all charges of conflict of interest brought against the polar explorer Alain Hubert and his International Polar Foundation (IPF).

The charges go back to 2013, and the complaint by then-director of the federal government’s ministry for science policy, Philippe Mettens.

Mettens alleged that there was a conflict of interest in the creation of a public-private enterprise, the Polar Secretariat, of which the IPF was a partner, and Hubert its president. The allegation led to a criminal charge, accusing Hubert of profiting personally from the relationship. 

The Polar Secretariat was set up to deliver services to the Princess Elisabeth polar base at the South Pole.

Hubert’s fight to clear his name has taken seven years and multiple legal actions, including an appeal to the Council of State, which rules on government actions.

Now the council chamber of Brussels has ruled that neither the Polar Foundation nor Alain Hubert himself could be considered to have profited personally from the appointments. In line with the Council of State judgement of 2017, the court said the partnership agreements between the Belgian state and the IPF in 2007 and 2009 were in keeping with the law.

The Court found that due to the various checks and balances exercised by the public administration, Alain Hubert would at no time have been able to promote his private interests as president and member of the Polar Secretariat. The public interest suffered no harm, and there was no evidence of a conflict of interest, the court ruled.

The judgement was handed down on 5 January, but the news has only now become public via the IPF, after the Belgian state allowed the deadline for yet another appeal to pass.

That decision brings an end to a battle that has lasted seven years and cost both accuser and defendant a fortune. In 2015 science minister Elke Sleurs (N-VA) dismissed the IPF from the Foundation. Hubert retaliated by taking property he claimed belonged to the IPF from the polar base.

The government later changed the code for the satellite phone used to keep contact between Brussels and the base, making it impossible for Hubert to speak to his own home base near Midi station.

Later, Sleurs’ successor Zuhal Demir (N-VA) gave Hubert his post back and signed an agreement whereby the state became sole owner of the base, while the IPF was appointed official manager. All legal actions were stopped, with the exception of the criminal case based on the complaints of Mettens.

The International Polar Foundation and Alain Hubert welcomed the decision of the court, which brings to a close a long period of unfounded attacks on the honesty and integrity of the Foundation,” the IPF said in a statement.

De Morgen spoke to Hubert directly.

Was I ever afraid of the outcome of this case?” Hubert said from Antarctica. “I'm not that kind of person. I am an entrepreneur and polar explorer.”

The statement, nonetheless, comes as a relief.

It may sound strange, but I'm not really happy for myself, but I am happy that the court has recognised that our way of working together serves the common good. Still, this should never have happened.”

Alan Hope

The Brussels Times

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