Count Leopold Lippens, the long-serving mayor of Knokke-Heist, is under investigation for a possible conflict of interest in connection with a land sale.
The matter being investigated by the Bruges prosecutor’s office concerns the conversion in 2016 of a piece of agricultural land into residential property on which housing would be constructed.
The case was opened after an audit of the matter by the Flemish government. Lippens, himself a property developer, took part in the meetings at which the land business was discussed, despite the fact that members of his family, including his children, were owners of 33% of the land in question.
Given that fact, the mayor ought to have recused himself from any dealings surrounding the land, according to the law. Lippens admits the facts of the case, and accepts he ought not to have taken part in those meetings, but denies there was any ill will on his part. The problem, he says, was the result of a simple oversight on the part of the communal services.
However both the Flemish government, which notified the prosecutor’s office, and the investigators, consider the matter is worth at least being looked into.
At the age of 78, Lippens – he inherited the title Count from his grandfather, a former minister and governor of the Belgian Congo who was ennobled by King Albert I in 1921 – has been mayor of the posh resort for 40 years, and shows no signs of giving up. And he is no stranger to controversy, having once banned picnics from the beach because the so-called frigo-box tourists were contributing nothing to the local economy and dragging down the image of his commune. In 2016 he threatened to build a prison camp for migrants who had been expelled from the so-called jungle in Calais. “Like Guantanamo but without the torture,” as he put it at the time.