Brussels is no Beirut, but it’s an increasingly dangerous place if you happen to be a Eurocrat. Burglary, assault, murder. You name the crime, this city will supply the weapon of choice.
The latest victim is Jean-Pierre Leng, a Eurocrat who has done stints as EU ambassador in Geneva and Tokyo. Leng left town for a weekend to visit his native France. Professional burglars discovered his absence, forced entry into his residence in well-heeled Uccle, broke into a safe box and absconded with several million Belgian francs worth of foreign currency.
Dietrich von Kyaw, Germany’s ambassador to the EU, reports that several of his staff have had their homes ransacked. One colleague lost antiques valued at DM1m. At least two other EU ambassadors attending diplomatic receptions say their limousines have been hijacked at gunpoint.
The only sensible response is to call the police, right? Wrong. Last year, von Kyaw’s Italian chauffeur was waiting to pick up his excellency when two Brussels policeman pulled over and ordered the driver to step out of the official Mercedes. The chauffeur protested, citing diplomatic immunity. Half an hour later, this loyal servant of the German state was sitting in a police cell, minus three front teeth.
Von Kyaw has spent two months seeking an explanation from the Belgian authorities. Nothing has happened. Not a whisper of an apology, either. Von Kyaw is spitting with rage, but he is loath to turn it into a diplomatic incident.
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violence is nothing new in Belgium. Everyone remembers the Brabant supermarket killings when hitmen shot shoppers at random, a few of whom were suspected Mafiosi. The other week, gangsters opened fire on an armoured delivery van with sub-machine guns and a bazooka. Today, stickers are still plastered on shop walls in memory of Julie and Melissa, the two eight-year-olds abducted and tortured by a convicted child rapist and buried in a shed under several feet of cement.
What is new is that Belgians are starting to ask hard questions about the causes of violent crime. The child murders have shaken faith in the political establishment, but also in an impartial judiciary which has been too susceptible to political manipulation. Yet the system plays both ways.
Last month, almost half a million people protested in Brussels against the dismissal of Marc Connerotte, the crusading anti-corruption magistrate sacked for attending a fund-raiser organised by the parents…