World news

Qatargate: Michel Claise, the Belgian judge who strikes down financial offenders

After reading his attributes: a man who defies the powerful, a destroyer of financial crime, we would not have instinctively given him this jovial air. Yet Michel Claise has many reasons to display a frank smile on each public portrait, as his work is aimed at the general good. For several days, this investigating judge attached to the Brussels court of first instance has been at the heart of the news. He is in charge of the investigation into suspicions of corruption linking Qatar to several MEPs, and has decided to prosecute four people for “belonging to a criminal organization, money laundering and corruption”, including the ex-vice -President of the European Parliament Eva Kaili.

His leitmotif: bring down those who believe they are untouchable

At 66, this specialist in the fight against financial crime uses all his energy to “deal with cases that involve influential people”, as he explains in an interview granted in 2020 Belgian daily The evening. What he likes is bringing down those who believe they are untouchable: white-collar criminals, who take advantage of their position to enrich themselves illegally. His winning list is impressive: he forced the HSBC bank, accused of tax evasion and money laundering, to pay 300 million euros to the Belgian State; he brought to light the embezzlement of the former Walloon Minister of the Economy, Serge Kubla, prosecuted for having corrupted a former Congolese Prime Minister within the framework of the attribution of a contract for the exploitation of mining deposits; he tracked down carbon tax scammer Cyril Astruc and charged the former head of the Federation of Belgian Enterprises.

Claise is therefore at the origin of numerous anti-corruption investigations in Belgium, his country, where he is admired by many and hated by others. If a legal columnist confides to AFP that he has “broad shoulders and is not afraid of anyone”, a lawyer tempers by finding him “imbued with himself, with the arrest warrant too easy”. Michel Claise, however, assures that he does not consider himself to be “a sheriff”, but to show the determination necessary for the difficult fight against criminal organizations, which have a “financial power which exceeds us”, as he confides. in an interview given Friday, December 16 to Figaro.

As a judge, he is well placed to know that the thief is the one who is caught, and that the others are forever innocent. On this principle, he believes that “if 95% of financial crime escapes us, we must be terrible with the remaining 5%. To be so, Michel Claise does not hesitate to go very far, as when he placed in pre-trial detention the criminal lawyer Oliviers Martins, accused of having helped a drug kingpin to escape from his Brussels prison.

In addition to being a feared magistrate, Michel Claise is a successful writer, and it is with undisguised joy that he wears this second cap at each book fair. To date, he has published eleven books, several of which have received critical acclaim and awards. His genre ? The detective novel, of course. The latest is called Insider trading (Genesis editions, 2021). A gift idea for Christmas and reading for Eva Kaili and her friends.


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