Belgium Accuses Suspect’s Lawyer in Kidnaping of Former Prime Minister

From Reuters

The lawyer of an alleged gang leader being hunted for the kidnaping of a former Belgian prime minister has been arrested on suspicion of masterminding the abduction, the prosecutors office said Friday.

Michel Vander Elst, 41, was placed under arrest after nine hours of questioning on suspicion of being “the author, co-author or an accomplice in the kidnap” of Paul Vanden Boeynants, a spokesman said.

Other accusations included extortion and forgery.

The lawyer denied the accusations, saying he was faced with the problem of professional secrecy in defending himself, the spokesman said.


Gang Leader Hunted

Vander Elst represents Patrick Haemers, 36, the alleged leader of a gang being hunted by police for a string of unsolved violent crimes, including the kidnaping.

Vanden Boeynants, 69, was abducted in the garage of his Brussels home on Jan. 14 and released a month later after a ransom of up to $2.5 million had been paid. A controversial politician, Vanden Boeynants was prime minister from 1966 to 1968 and again from 1978 to 1979.

The spokesman said there were three elements which led to Vander Elst’s arrest.

He had seen some of the suspected kidnapers after they had rented a villa in the northern French resort of Le Touquet, where Vanden Boeynants was manacled to a wall during his captivity. The lawyer had also received phone calls from public booths in Le Touquet.

In addition his fingerprints were found in a Brussels apartment police think the gang used when it planned the kidnaping.

Haemers, billed as Belgium’s public enemy No. 1, has been on the run since escaping from police custody 19 months ago.