Police chief resigns: shock and relief

The resignation of Belgium's federal police chief Fernand Koekelberg has triggered a number of reactions. Some are positive, others are negative, others express their relief. However, most people agree that his trip to Qatar was too much of a good thing.

The head of the Federal Police department Fernand Koekelberg announced yesterday that he is stepping down as from today. He said he could no longer handle the pressure piled up on him after "the repeated attacks" and also cited personal reasons (his teenage daughter committed suicide a couple of months ago).

Ben Weyts of the Flemish nationalists had put the cat among the pigeons by demanding his resignation after his expensive business trip to Qatar.

Mr Weyts said in a statement that "the resignation was the only possible decision to protect the interests of the federal police service." He made a reference to the fact that the storm had been going on for two weeks: "I understand that making tough decisions takes time and I respect that."

Interior Minister Annemie Turtelboom (Flemish liberal) had demanded a new inquiry into the expenses made by the head of the federal police. "Given the circumstances, it's the best decision for all the parties involved."

Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck (Flemish Christian democrat) expressed his "understanding" and praised Mr Koekelberg's work and his contribution to the integration of the local and federal police forces.

Christian trades union is "shocked"

The Christian trades union ACV released a statement this morning saying that it is "shocked" by the resignation. According to secretary Jan Adam employees have always been happy with Mr Koekelberg's work. "We have always cooperated well with him. This had not always been the case in the past."

The police trades union NSVP understands the decision. "It's to his credit that he has taken up his responsibility when the pressure was mounting. He had no energy left to fight the general perception that was created towards the public", says Philip Van Hamme.

"Secretary had a bad influence"

Analysts say that Mr Koekelberg's secretary Silvie Ricour was the driving force behind the expensive trip to Qatar. Her role was bigger than some may think, it is suggested.

There was already controversy a couple of years ago, when she received a promotion. Many claimed at the time that it was an illegal promotion. The then Interior Minister Patrick Dewael (Flemish liberal) overruled the promotion, but Mr Koekelberg launched an appeal against that decision and finally won the case.

3 tot 6 months to find a successor

Fernand Koekelberg's place will be taken by Chief Commissioner Paul Van Thielen, who already replaced him at earlier occasions. However, this is only a temporary solution.

The federal caretaker government will set up a new selection procedure to pick a new police chief. According to Ms Turtelboom, a caretaker government has the powers to do this. She added that the application procedure could take three to six months though.