The project was about reforestation, to stop the growing desert. "It was the project of my life", Laurent told 'Pano'. "I was even planning to move to Tripoli for 15 years. I had found a house, and the children were learning Arabic. They adored it."
However, the contract was suspended unilaterally by Libya, some say because Laurent refused to bribe officials, a common practice in the North-African country. Laurent takes the matter to court, and wins the case: he is entitled to some 50 million euros in damages. Libya refuses to pay him, but when Laurent seeks help from the Belgian government, he is left empty-handed. On the contrary, Laurent says, he is kindly requested not too complicate matters too much, as there are Belgian companies who still need to be paid by Libya.
It was never my intention to bring this out in the open. But we negotiated 4 years without success
Prince Laurent has always been rather silent about the matter, but is talking about the issue for the first time now. "It was never my intention to make this public. We have left no stone unturned to settle the matter in a discrete manner, but we never received any answer, any support. You need to know we have been negotiating for 4 years. 4 years! Without success", says Laurent, who is very frustrated about the stance of the Belgian government. Laurent says he has never been taken seriously.
Laurent feels discriminated: while the interests of other Belgian companies were protected, his non-profit organisation was left in the cold. "Moreover, some of these companies exported weapons, while my organisation was serving general interests."
Did Belgium violate UN sanctions?
And there's more. While 14 billion euros of Libyan cash were frozen in Belgium after the fall of Khaddafi in 2011, the interests were apparently paid out. It turns out that Belgium violated UN sanctions. Why and how this could happen, is still unclear. Belgian MP Eric Van Rompuy says that "Prince Laurent rightly asks questions."
Meanwhile, Prince Laurent is still waiting for his cash. In a recent letter to PM Charles Michel, he writes that "If everybody was treated equally according to Belgian law, I would have received the money a long time ago. What's the problem?" Laurent underlines that this cash will not be for him personally, but for "environment projects that serve general interests" under the umbrella of his non-profit organisation.
Pano's new episode, called "Prince Laurent's fight" in on tonight at 9:25 on the VRT's first channel één.