Belgium’s left-wing media has come under fire for running a campaign of spurious allegations against the billionaire Patokh Chodiev.
Chodiev, a former Soviet diplomat turned successful businessman, was at the centre of a scandal that rocked Belgium’s political elite amid allegations of French influence over their law-making process.
The Belgian media ran hundreds of news stories attacking Chodiev based on leaks from Green and Socialist politicians but, when the matter was formally investigated, no wrongdoing was discovered and the businessman was exonerated.
Now the media’s behaviour is being criticised for the significant bias found in the coverage of the so-called “Kazakhgate scandal”.
The worst offender was Le Soir, a liberal and progressive newspaper, which ran more than 50 stories in 2017 making damaging allegations about Chodiev. However, when the official report into the affair was published and the businessman was exonerated, Le Soir did not even cover the event.
Pascal Vanderveeren, Chodiev’s lawyer, denounced the “numerous leaks and selective, salacious, damaging and above all, false information” that appeared in the media throughout the investigation. Vanderveeren said that Chodiev had been repeatedly “slandered” by the media.
For example, Le Soir claimed that when Chodiev had been seeking citizenship in Belgium in the 1990s, his application had been supported by Serge Kubla, the former mayor of Waterloo and a neighbour of Chodiev’s.
Kubla wrote to the chairman of the naturalisation committee supporting the citizenship application by Chodiev and his daughters.
Le Soir reported the “disturbing” revelation that Kubla had been granted access to a driveway that was on Chodiev’s adjoining property. The newspaper concluded that this access had been granted in exchange for Kubla’s lobbying efforts.
But when a Parliamentary Inquiry Committee (PIC) was established to look into this and other allegations, the committee found Kubla’s intervention was common in such cases; it was legitimate; and had no influence over the process.
Le Soir had claimed that Chodiev bribed Kubla into influencing the citizenship process but when this was formally investigated, no such evidence was found and the matter was considered an “irrelevance”. Le Soir has not corrected its reporting.
This was just one example of many inaccuracies and fabrications by the media during the Kazakhgate affair.
Other allegations related to claims that French officials had set up a team to lobby for a new plea bargain law in Belgium, which would benefit Chodiev and his partners. The media claimed that France wanted Chodiev’s help to land a €2 billion helicopter deal with Kazakhstan and, in return, they volunteered to help sort out his legal problems in Belgium.
But the official investigators said that there had been no undue influence over the introduction of the law, which had been under discussion for five years before Chodiev’s legal team even heard about it.
The PIC report concluded: “In the case of Mr Chodiev et al, the public prosecutor’s office, in view of various factors such as the exceeding of the reasonable time limit and the risk of time barring, considered that tit was appropriate to use the plea bargain.”
The origins of this politically-inspired campaign against the billionaire Chodiev came from an attempt by Socialist and Green MPs in Belgium to attack their centrist rivals in the CD&V, N-VA and MR parties, who were in power at the time and had introduced the plea bargain law in 2011. The allegations were also an opportunity for left-wingers to attack President Sarkozy’s right-of-centre government in France.
This left-wing political campaign was supported by Belgium’s liberal media, which helped instigate the Kazakhgate scandal but then ignored the PIC’s findings when the investigation found no wrongdoing.