Betrayal of Trust: Uncovering Police Corruption in the Belgium Diamond SectorApril 21, 16
In every society there are some who commit crimes. An investigative free press will not hesitate to expose those individuals and companies. All of us trust and rely on law enforcement institutions to make sure that those who violate laws are held accountable – and pay the price (including removal from society through prisons or death penalty). The police are there to ensure that the law is upheld – in fact, they represent the law, they are the face of the law. If the police themselves violate laws, fabricate evidence, make false arrests, use their power to extort, society cannot function. People start to fear the police – they may even feel compelled to take the law into their own hands.
In recent years, many diamantaires in Antwerp have lost their trust in those whose sole task it is to police the diamond sector. One sensed that there were corrupt elements in the diamond police. That there were policemen who broke their social contract and abused their power for personal gain. Some diamantaires and companies became victims – some went bankrupt as their inventories had been arbitrarily and unnecessarily seized.
Writing about this police corruption is seen as “taboo” – lest it might badly reflect on the industry. But keeping silent makes matters worse – by being open and honest about it, the fear of “coming forward” will evaporate, the discussion will be moved to seeking remedies and on how to go forward. Seeing that the police are not considered above the law will restore the trust that has been lost and renew the social contract between citizens and the police. The sole purpose of this article is to somewhat advance that objective – and make sure it remains on our agenda until trust is fully restored. Or, as one Antwerp diamantaire reflected: “to make sure that we preserve Antwerp as the most attractive diamond center for our children.”
Just a few days before the horrendous Brussels terrorist attack, which captivated the public worldwide, there was – totally unrelated, of course – another shocking event that escaped the limelight: the long-standing Antwerp Federal Police Commissioner and Head of the Diamond Squad, Agim De Bruycker, suspected of various alleged corruption and falsification of document charges, was arrested for a second time. He is currently held in custody.
The ‘Horror of the Diamond Sector’
De Bruycker’s first arrest took place in March 2015 – and he remained in prison for three months. He was released on certain conditions and suspended from the police force for the duration of the investigation. His lawyer, advocate Gert Warson, said at the time that his client was innocent and that there was no incriminating evidence against him.1 Now, exactly a year after his first arrest, De Bruycker is again behind bars. Around the same time as De Bruycker’s second arrest, four other Antwerp policemen were jailed on suspicions of theft and extortion of foreigners in Antwerp, not necessarily diamond-related.
In terms of hierarchy, Agim De Bruycker holds the second highest rank in the Belgium Federal Police Corps. Only the Chief Commissioner is above him. De Bruycker has been involved, or initiated, virtually every criminal case in Belgium involving diamonds for the past 22 years! Flemish newspapers referred to him as the “Horror of the Diamond Sector” (Verschrikking) or the “Fright” of diamantaires. The federal diamond squad he heads employs some 16 investigators, some of which have been questioned as well.
Questions Without Answers
Why did the government fail to adhere to the best “practice of rotation”? Why does such a highly sensitive position not have term limits? Is it possible that the alleged crimes now attributed to De Bruycker could have been committed without cohorts? If lower police officers see that “their boss” gets away with it, isn’t this seen as a “license” to do likewise?
What troubles most is the question of whether this is a situation of a lone cop that allegedly strayed, or is De Bruycker a symptom of a much wider systemic institutional or societal problem. There is an overriding concern that nobody wants to raise in public – and even my sources whisper when they talk about, as if they themselves are afraid to hear it out loud: How much has law enforcement corruption potentially damaged the Belgium diamond sector over time and in what ways? How often has there been miscarriage of justice, if at all? What has it done to the traditional integrity of the sector in Antwerp and beyond? With some hesitations, some of these issues will be addressed here – though answers may not be conclusive. Maybe they never will.
Pressures to Get Convictions – Rather Than the Truth
As an investigative journalist in the diamond sector, I myself have more than once been in contact with Agim De Bruycker. He was always helpful and correct – we had some frank discussions. Not so long ago there was a court case involving fraud at the HRD grading lab in Antwerp. The principals of three innocuous small Indian-owned Antwerp firms quickly confessed, signed convictions, and, I gather, they are now either in jail or awaiting sentencing.
It has always been my belief, based on my own journalistic sleuthing, that these companies merely acted as straw intermediaries, almost like “couriers” between major (criminal/industry) players and the lab. The three companies were ostensibly buying and selling the stones submitted to the lab to create a smoke screen and distance the real perpetrators.
At the time, I remember a conversation with De Bruycker from which I understood that he may have had his own reservations, but he dismissed these concerns. He basically said (and I quote from memory): Chaim – I am a policeman. I have three signed confessions. This rarely happens. I don’t need more. End of story.
I realized then that De Bruycker was under tremendous pressure to deliver, to bring cases to court that lead to convictions. The thought crossed my mind that these “couriers” may actually have been, or will be, compensated for taking the fall. I still think so.
The Questionable Diamond Investigative Mechanism
However, De Bruycker is not a “one man show.” The decision-making process is shared. In the complex judiciary system, police investigations are accompanied and guided by an “investigative magistrate” or “investigative judges.” (One must differentiate between judges adjudicating cases in court and the law officers who work in the Prosecutor’s Office, who essentially bring prosecutions.)
In recent years, one investigative “diamond magistrate” has been Peter van Calster, who has a reputation of being a relentless (and feared) investigator in the diamond sector. In recent months, he has not been in the news, but Van Calster’s own office also faced some kind of investigation a few years ago. Question marks around the entire diamond investigative mechanism are anything but new. This is alarming indeed.
It’s a strange system, at least to outsiders. A few years, ago DIB published an exposé on an allegedly fraudulent bankruptcy in Canada, with links to a diamond conglomerate with offices in New York. We reported that a Belgian insurance company, Coface, had insured the diamond company that had supplied diamonds that remained unpaid and/or had gone missing.
What I later found out was that Coface had actually made an official payment to the Prosecutor’s Office to finance a police investigation. (Something like €50,000 or €75,000.) With this money, Commissioner De Bruycker and an Investigative Judge could travel to New York and Canada to collect additional evidence of a possible insurance fraud.
It’s puzzling. In what justice system must a victim of crime finance the criminal investigation conducted by the police? At the time of Commissioner De Bruycker’s arrest, March 2015, his investigation into the insurance case was about to be completed. Just a coincidence? The file apparently remains open.
Click here to see the full “Betrayal of Trust: Uncovering Police Corruption in the Belgium Diamond Sector.”