The US Justice Department is investigating the chief executive of Bpost, Jean-Paul Van Avermaet, as part of an inquiry into alleged price fixing in the private security sector, De Standaard reports.
Before arriving at Bpost in 2019, Van Avermaet was cluster manager at G4S, the security firm. The company was one of several being investigated by the Belgian competition authority after allegations companies worked together to fix prices and shut down competition.
Van Avermaet has always maintained his innocence of the charges, which are also being looked at by the Brussels prosecutor’s office. At the same time, however, his former employer G4S has admitted its guilt in an attempt to obtain clemency.
Two other companies, Securitas and Seris, are also cooperating with the investigation.
Van Avermaet, meanwhile, is represented by Stefaan Raes, a former chair of the competition authority.
The anti-trust office of the Justice Department in Washington became involved in April because it suspected the cartel formed by the security companies was acting against the interests of American competitors.
In addition, the American taxpayer would be directly affected by price-fixing, as among the contracts the companies are alleged to have carved up among themselves were security at the US Embassy in Brussels, and the Shape command centre for Nato in Mons.
If the investigation by the competition authority proves its case, the punishment is a fine of up to 10% of the company’s worldwide earnings.
If however the Justice Department can prove its case, company executives could be facing a prison sentence.
Technically, Belgium has no extradition treaty with the US covering such offences, unlike the UK, which recently extradited a number of its own citizens to the US on cartel-forming charges.
But the charges would not go away for all that. If any of those found guilty were to set foot on American soil, they could expect to be greeted by US marshals. That could be a problem for Van Avermaet. One of Bpost’s biggest subsidiaries, e-commerce provider Radial, is based in Pennsylvania.
François Cornelis, chairman of Bpost, told the paper he had not been informed about the American investigation.
“I was not told,” he said. “I only know that the [competition authority] asked questions.” Cornelis said he will wait for the outcome of the investigation.