Former military intelligence boss denies he stepped down voluntarily
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Former military intelligence boss denies he stepped down voluntarily

Defence minister Ludovine Dedonder (PS). © Laurie Dieffembach for Belga

Major-general Philippe Boucké, until last week the head of the military intelligence service CGRS, has denied he stepped down from his post in agreement with defence minister Ludivine Dedonder (PS).

Boucké, an officer held in high regard by his peers, was removed from office because of the Jürgen Conings affair, concerning a soldier who went on the run for more than a month, heavily armed and having made threats against possible targets, including virologst Marc Van Ranst.

Conings was later found dead by his own hand, following intensive but fruitless searches.

As head of the service that had named Conings as one of about 30 military personnel suspected of having extreme right-wing leanings, Boucké was assumed to have known he was also named as a potential terrorist by the office for risk assessment, the only Belgian soldier ever to have been given that status.

Boucké claims his staff never communicated that information to him.

Announcing last Friday that Boucké was being removed from office, Dedonder said the decision had been taken with his cooperation. Boucké has now denied that claim, in two tweets posted to his account, which is blocked so the tweets cannot be reproduced.

However thanks to the VRT, as an approved follower, the content can be revealed.

On 8 July I received a single message – that people wanted me to be replaced, and even begin disciplinary action against me. On 14 July I was questioned by the parliamentary committee on defence for four hours, with the result being known the same day: the majority supported me,” he wrote.

He goes on in a second tweet: “On 15 July, the day it was decided to replace me, there were two options on the table. I said I would continue in office if the ADIV (CGRS) was reinforced with more staff. The second option was to replace me. The choice is now known.”

At the same time as announcing Boucké’s departure, Dedonder also announced he would be replaced by Vice-Admiral Wim Robberecht.

Now a report in De Standaard reveals that Boucké had only days before undergone questioning from committee members in parliament, he had also survived two reports, by the independent Comité I on intelligence affairs, and another by the Inspector-General of the defence forces.

Both of those reports pointed the finger rather at the political management of the case – in other words at Dedonder’s office.

Last weekend, in the days following Boucké’s resignation/firing, several prominent military figures made their voices heard.

Deputy defence chief Mark Thys: “A shitty day at the office until now. I hope the afternoon will be better.”

Pierre Gérard, head of the land army: “The price is too high here. A black day for Defence indeed, which will not come out of this unscathed.”

Major-general Pierre Neirinckx, heads of the medical component: “As if pushing aside an exemplary officer will solve the flaws caused by past decisions from outside the service.”

And retired army general Guy Buchsenschmidt, while accusing Dedonder of ‘ineptitude,’ has a supporting message for Boucké: “We the military support you wholeheartedly,” he concluded.