December 19th, 2008


Still getting away with it

Astonishingly, prime minister Leterme is still in office this morning. His bacon was saved yesterday after further correspondence arrived in the Belgian parliament from the judicial system, this time from the prosecutor in the court of appeal, which seemed to give some hope that there were good if technical legal grounds to challenge the original decision to suspend the BNP Paribas takeover of Fortis.

I'm more than a little amazed. These technicalities were conveniently discovered by precisely the judge who Leterme is accused of influencing; and the prosecutor's letter, though only publicised late yesterday, is dated earlier in the week. It seems reasonable to suppose that the president of the Court of Cassation was also aware of these issues when he wrote his stinging note to the speaker of parliament yesterday; he has promised an expanded report today.

Who knows? Maybe it is just a remarkable coincidence that the one judge in a three-judge panel who discovered technical flaws in a judgement inconvenient to the government also happened to be the one judge in the three-judge panel who had been directly contacted by the prime minister's office. Stranger things have happened.

It will be astonishing if the president of the Court of Cassation does not substantiate the allegations he made yesterday about political interference in the judicial system. It's a pretty serious thing when the head of the highest court in the land accuses the prime minister of violating the separation of powers. But then, I find it also astonishing that Leterme is still in his job this morning, after the way he keeps changing his story.

One down, how many more to go?

The Minister of Justice has resigned. The president of the Court of Cassation did indeed send an expanded note to the Speaker of the House today. It concludes that "bearing in mind that my investigations have been somewhat limited, I have not found legal proof of an attempt to impede the course of justice, but there are undoubtedly important indications in that direction." The letter is scathingly critical of the Minister of Justice, and almost as directly critical of the prime minister. It's difficult to believe that Leterme can survive; but it's also difficult to believe that he is still there!

All fall down

The entire government has now resigned (BBC link). Good riddance to Leterme; let's hope they (meaning the political class as a whole, and the Flemish Christian Democrats in particular) choose better next time. This crisis - indeed, the continuing uncertainty since the elections of last year - was largely a result of his political incompetence.

We now return to our usual scheduled commentary on Doctor Who and linguistics.