Ex-Belgian Premier Reported Kidnaped
Former Prime Minister Paul Vanden Boeynants has been kidnaped and a hitherto unknown group called the Socialist Revolutionary Brigade has claimed responsibility, Belgian television said Sunday.
The Brussels public prosecutor’s office said in a statement that he had vanished from his home on Saturday evening and that the disappearance was worrying. It said he needed constant medication when under stress.
Vanden Boeynants, 69, was prime minister in 1966-68 and 1978-79 and remained one of Belgium’s most popular politicians despite having been convicted of massive tax fraud in 1986.
The kidnap claim was made in an anonymous telephone call to RTBF radio and television.
Andre Vandoren, the deputy Brussels prosecutor, quoted the caller as saying: “We have kidnaped Mr. Vanden Boeynants, the former prime minister. If you do not believe us, contact his wife.”
The caller led police to believe that kidnaping was the “most plausible” explanation for Vanden Boeynants’ disappearance, Vandoren said.
Officials said Vanden Boeynants arrived home by car at about 6 p.m. but never entered his residence. They said police found a hearing aid, a pipe and a shoe belonging to him in his garage.
The prosecutor’s office appealed for anyone with information about the missing politician to come forward, but there was little sign of increased police activity around Brussels.
Justice Minister Melchior Wathelet confirmed Vanden Boeynants’ disappearance but said he had never heard of the group that called the French-language network.
Belgium has been free of urban guerrilla activity since a series of bomb attacks in 1984 and 1985 by the Fighting Communist Cells, a leftist group with links to West Germany’s Red Army Faction and Direct Action of France.
Four members of the cells, arrested in December, 1985, were sentenced to life imprisonment last October, after being convicted of two murders during 25 bombings of North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Belgian targets.
Vanden Boeynants, nicknamed “the old crocodile” for his political tenacity but known universally as VDB, was given a three-year suspended jail sentence at his 1986 trial for “constant, astute, multiple and repeated, organized fraud.”
A trial judge branded him “a compulsive cheat.”
Since then, the state prosecutor has formally asked for Vanden Boeynants’ parliamentary immunity to be lifted so he can be questioned in connection with bribery allegations concerning his lengthy term as defense minister in the 1970s.
He nonetheless staged a political comeback in last October’s local elections, leading a Christian Democratic ticket to victory in the small municipality of central Brussels.
He was nominated as mayor but withdrew his name from consideration after the government made clear that King Baudouin could not appoint someone with his criminal record.
A dapper, silver-haired figure, Vanden Boeynants began work in the meat trade after World War II. He was elected a member of Parliament in 1952 and held his seat for 33 years.
He first entered the Cabinet in 1958 and became president of his party, the French-speaking Social Christians, in 1961. He resigned that post in 1981, two years after leaving the Cabinet.