Belgians Clear Way to Indict NATO Chief

From Associated Press

The Belgian Parliament made it possible Thursday for NATO Secretary General Willy Claes to be indicted on corruption charges, and the alliance leader was expected to resign today.

In a secret ballot, the Parliament voted 97 to 52 to lift Claes' diplomatic immunity and have him stand trial in Belgium's Supreme Court of Justice. There was one abstention.

The vote came after Claes, 56, made an unprecedented appearance before Parliament to deny bribery charges stemming from two defense contracts awarded to foreign firms in 1988 and 1989, when he was Belgium's minister for economic affairs and planning.

By lifting the immunity granted to Claes as a former government minister, the Parliament effectively voted to indict him despite his last-minute appeal.

Asked on Thursday if he would resign, as was widely expected if he lost the vote, Claes said, "You'll hear more about that tomorrow."

Claes was appointed to head the alliance on Sept. 29, 1994, and his brief tenure at the 16-nation alliance has been clouded by the scandals.

Prosecutors say that as economic affairs minister he had knowledge of bribes allegedly paid by French and Italian firms to win contracts for building military helicopters and upgrading air force jet fighters.

Claes has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing on either count.

His expected resignation will leave the North Atlantic Treaty Organization without a helmsman at a time when it is planning to deploy about 55,000 peacekeepers to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

A decision on a new NATO chief may be reached over the weekend when NATO foreign ministers are in New York for the United Nations' 50th anniversary celebration.

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