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Business Europe

Belgium PM in the eye of the Fortis storm


Latest update : 2008-12-19

Under mounting pressure to resign, Belgium's Prime Minister Yves Leterme awaits a Supreme Court report on the Fortis case amid suspicions that his office sought to influence an appeal court ruling on the breakup of the bank.

REUTERS - The future of Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme hung in the balance on Friday ahead of a report from the Supreme Court over suspicions of political meddling in the judicial system. 

Leterme faced mounting pressure to quit on Thursday over accusations that his office had sought to influence an appeal court ruling that last week froze the break-up of stricken financial group Fortis. 

Ministers met for seven hours and emerged just before midnight to say no one would be resigning -- at least for the time being. 

Leterme's future had looked bleak on Thursday afternoon when an incendiary letter from the head of the Supreme Court to the chairman of the lower house of parliament was made public. 

"Everything was done that the ruling of the 18th chamber of the court of appeal could not be delivered as planned," read one passage of the letter, although it did not name Leterme. 

Ministers said they would await a full report from the Supreme Court, expected to be available on Friday afternoon, before meeting again. 

"Total chaos," read the headline in Le Soir. "Outlaw" said La Libre Belgique below a picture of a pensive Leterme. "A painful death walk" was the title on De Morgen. 

The prime minister has denied influencing the appeal court, although acknowledged that one of his officials contacted the husband of one of the judges several times.

Leterme only came into power in March after nine months of deadlock due to a tussle over the extent that powers should be devolved to Belgium's regions -- a key demand for Dutch-speaking Flemish parties.
Only this July, he tendered his resignation after failing to break the deadlock, which reignited speculation the 178-year-old country could split. He stayed on after King Albert refused to let him quit.
Fortis was carved up by the Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg governments with France's BNP Paribas buying the Belgian operations after an 11.2 billion euro ($16.1 billion) cash injection failed to calm investor concerns. 

Angry shareholders launched legal action, and the victory at the appeal court has thrown the government's bailout plans into disarray in the midst of a financial and economic crisis.


Date created : 2008-12-19