- On 7 June 2016, “Fortisgate” was discussed at a roundtable with prominent journalists, including the author of Fortisgate – Een stresstest voor justitie. These journalists also discussed the Panamagate scandal. Venue: Theater Roma, Antwerp. More information can be found here.
- On 12 April 2016, a book came out about “Fortisgate” (written in Dutch): W. VAN DEN EYNDE, Fortisgate – Een stresstest voor justitie, Uitgeverij Van Halewyck, 2016. Refer to this book for a comprehensive picture of “Fortisgate”. Journalist Jan Nolfs explains why you should read this book. This book describes what is arguably the biggest constitutional crisis and judicial scandal Belgium has ever known: Fortisgate. The scandal erupted after the sale of a Belgian bank, Fortis, to a French bank, BNP Paribas, in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. It led to the demise of the government in December 2008 and to investigations by a parliamentary committee in March 2009. It touches upon the following issues: Separation of powers; Independence of the judiciary; Deontological obligations of judges; Fundamental rights of judges; Confidentiality of judicial deliberations; Power and independence of parliament vis-à-vis the judiciary.
About this website (!)
This website is mainly about “Fortisgate“.
What? Yes, “Fortisgate” …
According to a Belgian newspaper (La Libre Belgique, 18/11/’09), Fortisgate is a “protected designation of origin” since Yves Leterme (the then prime minister of Belgium) had to resign, in December 2008, when the scandal “Fortisgate” erupted.
A scandal that occured in Belgium, allright. But which scandal? Given the obscurity surrounding “Fortisgate”, that remains the crucial question.
What are the main facts?
In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the Fortis bank -once one of Belgium’s most important banks- nearly crashed during Autumn 2008. In order to save the bank from bankruptcy, the board of directors decided to close a deal with BNP Paribas, a French bank. BNP Paribas preferred having contractual relations only with the Belgian state, rather: through the state-run company “SFPI” (” Société fédérale de Participations et d’Investissements“). Accordingly, Fortis bank was sold to “SFPI” as an intermediary buyer-seller. This is how Fortis got nationalised and subsequently sold (for 75%) by “SFPI” to BNP Paribas on 4 & 5 October 2009.
A number of stakeholders were unhappy about the conditions under which their bank had been sold to BNP Paribas. They argued that their rights had been violated as they had not been consulted by the board of directors before the transactions were passed. This is why they filed an application before the Brussels Commercial Tribunal (where the application was declined).
Many strange things happened right before (and after) the judgment of the Brussels Commercial Tribunal was handed down, but this website does noet go into the ‘first stage’ of Fortisgate.
Things start getting interesting in the ‘second stage’, at the level of the Brussels Court of Appeal …
When the case was deliberated by the Court of Appeal’s judges, and also after this Court handed down the judgment, many bizarre things happened. We cannot get into detail now, but if you would like to discover which odd things happened during and after deliberations, and what the consequences are, you are at the right place here.
In any event, when the judgment of the Brussels Court of Appeal was handed down on 12 December 2008, said transactions were suspended (“frozen”, “le gel” in French) for a certain period of time.
The bottom-line is that there are several versions of what happened. In the days before the judgment was handed down either political, external pressure was being exercised on one of the judges -judge Schurmans- in order to ‘sabotage’ the judgment (and this would have inspired judge Schurmans to refuse to sign the judgment) ; or internal pressure was being exercised on that same judge, i.e. by colleagues and hierarchy (but Schurmans did not yield to that pressure and this would have inspired her to refuse to sign the judgment).
Whereas, broadly speaking, the first version (external pressure), especially in December 2008 and during 2009, constituted the majority view (mediated by most press), the second version of the story (internal pressure), especially at the beginning too, constituted the minority view (mediated by a few journalists).
In the days after the judgment was handed down, the first judge of the country -Ghislain Londers- reacted to the Parliament, on 18 and 19 December 2008, either out of real concern for possible political pressure or with a view to covering up problems within the judiciary.
In any event, Londers originated the ‘majority view’ (external, political pressure).
It is up to you to judge what really happened on the basis of the relevant documents (mostly in Dutch or in French, sometimes translated from one to the other language) we gathered on this website concerning Fortisgate. Since we believe that the second version (internal pressure) has not yet gotten enough attention and analysis, we will rather accentuate that version on this website.
We believe that Fortisgate has been largely misunderstood indeed. It has been haunting the Belgian political, judicial and media worlds, and rightly so, but mainly for the wrong reasons.
In short, the main goal of this website is twofold:
- rendering public facts or documents “even more public”: see tabs “public documents” & “press“);
- to get you in touch with both the majority and minority viewpoints: See i.a. tab “opinion“. On this page, you will find a few opinion articles, written either in French or in Dutch.
Final remark: this website is trilingual. Most introductions will be in English but the majority of the texts will be in French and / or Dutch.
About us (?)
Since the Belgian legal world is very much hierarchised (some people refer to it as a feudal system), and any (even constructive) critics self-destructive, given the uncertainty surrounding legal protection in Belgium too, the writers of this blog -all Belgian lawyers from both sides of the country- prefer to / do not have any other choice than to remain anonymous.