A Flemish holiday that will be remembered: "Truth was stranger than fiction"
On 11 July, the Flemish parliament speaker Kris Van Dijck resigned amidst fraud allegations. Two VRT journalists, Pieterjan De Smedt and Goedele Devroy, look back on an unlikely chain of events. A reconstruction of a day which became a nightmare for the Flemish nationalists of N-VA - who have put forward Wilfried Vandaele to succeed Van Dijck.
Kris Van Dijck (N-VA) had been appointed Parliament Speaker ad interim as negotiations for a new Flemish government are not making any headway. He was in the eye of the storm last week, after being caught drink-driving, but did not resign. His speech in the Brussels city hall on the Flemish national day had to become an important moment for him, but then things went wrong.
P-Magazine reported that he had committed fraud to help a prostitute to get a benefit. Pieterjan De Smedt was in the city hall when the news started to spread: "Smartphones were going off when Van Dijck was on stage. Everybody was looking at one another: "What's going on here?""
At that moment, the news had not been confirmed. "Then Paul Van Den Driessche entered the room, the party's communication advisor. I saw his face and knew this was serious. It was a major problem. Van Dijck was led to a separate room as soon as possible. There is a photo which shows him sitting on a bench (see top photo). A mini-crisis meeting was held, all interviews were scrapped and Van Dijck left the city hall through the back door. The atmosphere was very strange. Truth was stranger than fiction."
We learned from a reliable source that Kris Van Dijck had a relation with a prostitute 5 years ago, and that he tried to help her financially
The Flemish nationalists stage a crisis meeting. N-VA supremo Bart De Wever, who is in Colombia, comes to the phone. After two hours, a statement says Kris Van Dijck will step down as Flemish Parliament Speaker. In the statement, he admits he has made mistakes in his life, but he adds that he never did anything against the law. The allegations in P-Magazine are wrong, he says.
"We learned from a reliable source that Kris Van Dijck had a relation with a prostitute 5 years ago, and that he tried to help her financially", the VRT's political pundit Goede Devroy explains. "However, Van Dijck denies that he would have done something illegal. (...) But whether he did something illegal or not, a Parliament Speaker should always give the right example." Two storms in one week is too much, especially when it's only about your person, Devroy says.
Apparently, Van Dijck sent an e-mail to the then Employment Minister Kris Peeters to help out the lady in question. Pieterjan Desmedt: "He asks Peeters if it's possible to speed up the procedure to get her the benefit. This come close to preferential treatment." Mr Peeters underlined yesterday that he never actually intervened.
Kris Van Dijck holds one of the longest records in Flemish Parliament, taking up his seat for the first time in 1995. He is also Mayor in Dessel (Antwerp Kempen area) and has played an important role in the N-VA as from the party's foundation in 2001. His lawyer says he has done nothing which is illegal, and that he can prove it. Meanwhile, the N-VA has put forward Wilfried Vandaele to become the new Speaker in the Flemish hemisphere.