Over the course of two years, thieves have been stealing what could be millions of litres of kerosene from a Nato supply pipeline in the vicinity of Beloeil in Hainaut province.
The pipeline was created during the Cold war to supply aircraft at Nato bases in western Europe, and is still operational. According to a report in the Dernière Heure newspaper, the thieves used a complex American-made drilling rig to tap into the pipeline and siphon off the kerosene into a container underground. That tank in turn fed the stolen fuel to a former industrial site some distance away, where it could be pumped into tanker trucks.
The military authorities are said to have noticed the loss of fuel, but assumed it was caused by a leak in the underground pipeline. On investigation, the spot where the fuel was disappearing could be localised right down to the adjacent street, where the theft was discovered.
Last year, it has now emerged, two tanker trucks were stopped by police on the E42 motorway close to the site. They appeared to be en route to eastern Europe, and several arrests were made, since the fuel could not be shown to have been legally obtained. But no-one at the time thought to check on the Nato pipeline.
Despite being of military and political importance, the pipeline was an open secret. When Belgium’s home-grown terrorist group, the Fighting Communist Cells (CCC) were active in the early 1980s, they planted bombs at five locations along the length of the pipeline. And as recently as 2015 the location of the pipeline was published openly on the website of Beprobel, the professional association of fire-fighters.