“During one of the phone calls we listened to, he (Oswald Gantois) said himself that he had played too much James Bond but that every diplomat must be a bit of a spy.”
Ann Fransen — Belgian federal prosecutor
“I never accepted money … I never disclosed state secrets. I am right with myself and that is enough. This case has destroyed my life. In the eyes of the investigators I was guilty right from the start.”
Belgian diplomat Oswald Gantois
September 5 2018 — A senior Belgium diplomat has helped Russian spies for over 25 years. A Belgian court found Mr. Oswald Gantois guilty of espionage. Brussels is a nest of spies with the highest density of foreign spooks anywhere in Europe, and quite possibly in the world. I find it hard to believe that they could not find a bigger fish to fry. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today
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UPDATE (September 5 2020) — Just when you think it can’t get any worse… Out of the blue, Belgian intelligence services are currently investigating at least 20 cases of infiltration by foreign intelligence agencies.
The Belgian military intelligence authority – the General Intelligence and Security Service (GISS/ADIV) – has initiated 15 cases, while the State Security Service (VSSE) has opened five cases.
Among these cases, Frank Jaumin — the VSSE counter-espionage chief — is being investigated for his surprisingly soft guidelines regarding spies working on non-diplomatic covers.
A British expert does not hesitate to call Belgium’s counter-espionage capabilities “shockingly negligent” in view of its EU and NATO responsibilities.
European and NATO partners are increasingly wary of the situation in Belgium which is described as the weak partner of their coalition.
According to rumors, they are thinking twice before sharing sensitive information with Brussels.
“We need to understand whether the government of Belgium is interested in improving the work of its counterintelligence services.
If the answer is yes, it is clear that the Russian spy problem is no longer Belgium’s domestic issue, considering the presence of key EU and NATO institutions.
If, however, the Belgian political elite with their idleness are deliberately creating conditions for the successful activities of Russian spies, EU and NATO security institutions should review the current procedures…” [Zintis Znotiņš –Feb 5, 2020]
The Perfect Storm
Belgian authorities have a duty to protect EU and NATO buildings (HQs and other buildings, including NATO’s military command, Shape) and, beside their domestic duties, Belgian intelligence services must provide security for the 50,000 EU and NATO employees residing in Belgium.
Belgium spends a mere 0.01% of its GDP for its intelligence services, the lowest figure among NATO member states. [The UK spends 0.15 percent of its GDP and has about 4,000 personnel in its domestic intelligence agency, MI5, alone.]
The VSSE and ADIV have about 650 officers each. In the wake of the 2015 bomb attacks in Brussels, the vast majority of them work on counter-terrorism instead of counter-espionage.
According to the most recent report of the Council of Europe anti-corruption group, Belgium is close to the bottom of the class in terms of preventing corruption among legislators, judges and prosecutors.
An Ernst & Young 2019 study indicates that the level of corruption in Belgium has doubled in the last 6 years. Among the countries investigated, only Ukraine and Kenya are doing worse. The level of corruption in Belgium appears to be about twice higher than the European average.
Belgian espionage laws date from a different era and badly need to be updated. Currently, the Belgian Constitutional Court is de facto shutdown for lack of judges.
Belgium has had no permanent government since the last federal election held on May 26 2019.
The kingdom’s citizens don’t seem to mind. Foreign intelligence agencies are delighted.
Don’t worry, be happy! So far, so good…
END of UPDATE
During his diplomatic career, Mr Gantois has worked in the US, India, Japan, Portugal and Algeria.
Belgian authorities believe that he was recruited by KGB operators in 1985 and went on to help the KGB N-line department for more than two decades.
It is rather unclear why this case was not discovered earlier. Perhaps, some information surfaced during the investigation of the Kazakhgate scandal.
The Kazakhgate scandal arguably began when three close friends of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev managed to corrupt a Belgian nuclear company, Tractebel. At about the same time, they set up money laundering front companies for the Russian KGB.
RELATED POST: KAZAKHGATE — An Easy Primer [UPDATE JUNE 17 2017]
The information Gantois passed to the KGB — and later to the SVR (its successor) — was used to create false papers and identities for their agents.
“The court heard that Gantois was wined and dined by the Russian secret services and offered money and expensive bottles of vodka for his help.”
“He never noted those lunches in his diary and he never filed expense reports,” Ann Fransen — the federal prosecutor — told the court.
“This proves that he was very aware of the clandestine character of his activities.”
“During one of the phone calls we listened to, he said himself that he had played too much James Bond but that every diplomat must be a bit of a spy.” [BBC]
(September 4 2018) — The Belgian top diplomat Oswald Gantois (63) has been sentenced to 12 months in jail for espionage activities and participation in an association of criminals.
According to the ruling of the Court, Gantois systematically leaked secret information to agents of the Russian intelligence officers during his long career.
Gantois has been consul in the US, India, Japan, Portugal and Algeria. For 25 years, he maintained contacts with members of the Russian secret service KGB and later her successor the SVR.
“From his love of Russian culture, he was recruited by Russian agents from the so-called N-line, a secret service specializing in delivering false papers and a fictional life to secret agents.”
“The knowledge of the accused over the Belgian naturalization legislation was of course very useful “, federal prosecutor Ann Fransen stated.
The N-line is involved in forgery of official documents such as birth certificate, ID cards, driving licenses and passports.
Gantois has been suspended as a diplomat. He still denies all allegations but he did not appeal against his conviction.
On Monday (Sept 3 2018), Brussels Prosecutor General Delmulle delivered his commencement speech. He argued that new laws — or at least a new interpretation of the texts — were urgently needed to prosecute various crimes of espionage.
Prosecutor Delmulle specifically pointed out Gantois’ case and stated that Belgian espionage laws are no longer fitted to the reality of our times. For instance, if the federal prosecutor had not been able to argue successfully that Gantois was motivated by “profit’, he could only have been charged for ‘political crimes’.
That was far from obvious as all the prosecutor could prove is that Gantois had received bottles of whiskey and vodka as gift from Russian alleged agents.
Belgian laws are very kind to dissidents, revolutionary and rebellious intellectuals. That is why from Karl Marx and Victor Hugo to Charles Puigdemont, many of them have sought refuge in the Belgian capital.
UPDATE (September 5 2019) — Mr. Gantois is now a happy retiree since January 1 2019.
Quick note — A year ago, I wrote :
“Brussels is a nest of spies with the highest density of foreign spooks anywhere in Europe, and quite possibly in the world. I find it hard to believe that they could not find a bigger fish to fry.”
Clement Vandenborre has been with the Belgian counterintelligence service for 40 years.
He has been “temporarily” removed from office. Actually, his office was sealed at the end of January 2019.
It appears that Vandenborre was in contact with a Serbian woman believed to have been a double agent for Russia.
And, of course, Jacques Monsieur is now behind bars at the Saint Gilles prison, in Brussels.
In February 2019, The internal security service of the European External Action Service [EEAS] warned of spies in Brussels.
In particular, the internal report claims that Russian and Chinese intelligence services are increasingly active in the European capital.
Does the EEAS warning ring a bell? To be continued…
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One Year Ago — Belgian Diplomat Accused of Helping Russia : “Stirred, not Shaken”
Two Years Ago — Belgian Diplomat Accused of Helping Russia : “Stirred, not Shaken”