The Agusta scandal or Agusta affair (French: Affaire Agusta, Dutch: Agustaschandaal), alternatively known as the Agusta–Dassault Case, was a corruption scandal in Belgium during the 1990s. It resulted from the discovery that the aviation firms Agusta and Dassault had bribed various Belgian office-holders in 1988 in order to secure a large order of Agusta A109 helicopters from the Belgian Army and the deals for refitting Belgian F-16 Fighting Falcon jets respectively. Several politicians from the Walloon and Flemish Socialist parties, including the incumbent Secretary General of NATO Willy Claes, were to resign as a result of the scandal and its subsequent investigation.
Investigation and exposure
The investigation into the purchase was started by the investigative team looking into the 1991 assassination of André Cools, a politician of the Francophone Parti Socialiste (PS) and former Deputy Prime Minister, when it turned out that Cools had knowledge about the Agusta deal. An official investigation into the deal was started in January 1993, by judge Véronique Ancia, when a search warrant was issued for Agusta and its lobbyist Georges Cywie.
Guy Coëme, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Transportation for the PS resigned that same month. Frank Vandenbroucke, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Federal Government for the Flemish Socialistische Partij (SP), resigned from his post in March 1994. Willy Claes, member of the SP and Secretary General of NATO, resigned on 20 October 1995.
A criminal trial was handled by the Court of Cassation, which is responsible for cases involving minister in function. The public prosecutor was Eliane Liekendael. The Court had most of its verdicts ready on 23 December 1998. Willy Claes received a 3-year probationary sentence and a 5-year prohibition on running for public office. Guy Coëme and Guy Spitaels both received 3-year probationary sentences with a 5-year prohibition on running for public office. Serge Dassault, of the Dassault company, received an 18-months probationary sentence for bribery.
|Name||Function||Party||Crime (Agusta case)||Crime (Dassault case)||Sentence||Fine (in Belgian francs)|
|Andre Bastien||Chief of staff to Coëme||PS||n.a.||passive corruption
|6 months probationary||6,000|
|Willy Claes||Minister of Foreign Affairs||SP||passive corruption||passive corruption||3 years probationary||60,000|
|Guy Coëme||Minister of Defense||PS||n.a.||passive corruption
|2 years probationary||60,000|
|Serge Dassault||Director, Dassault Group||n.a.||n.a.||active corruption||2 years probationary||60,000|
|Johan Delanghe||Chief of staff to Claes||SP||passive corruption||passive corruption
|Auguste Merry Hermanus||Chief of staff||PS||n.a.||passive corruption||1 year probationary||30,000|
|Etienne Mangé||Treasurer, Socialistische Partij||SP||n.a.||n.a.||1 year probationary||30,000|
|Jean-Louis Mazy||Deputy chief of staff to Coëme||PS||n.a.||passive corruption
|6 months probationary||6,000|
|Alfons Puelinckx||lawyer||n.a.||passive corruption
|passive corruption||2 years incarceration||60,000|
|François Pirot||Vice-Secretary, Parti Socialiste||PS||n.a.||passive corruption||3 months probationary||6,000|
|Guy Spitaels||Chairman, Parti Socialiste||PS||n.a.||passive corruption||2 years probationary||60,000|
|Luc Wallyn||Secretary, Parti Socialiste||PS||passive corruption
|passive corruption||2 years probationary||60,000|
The Parti Socialiste had to return 49 million francs in bribes, the Socialistische Partij 111 million francs. Claes, Coëme, Delanghe, Hermanus, Mangé, Puelinckx, Spitaels and Wallyn were also barred from running for political office, or working in the civil service, for five years.
European Court of Human Rights
After the verdicts were handed down, many of the convicted parties applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to get the verdicts revoked, because the Court of Cassation in Belgium does not allow for an appeal process, which would have been in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
On 2 June 2005, the ECHR judged that in the case of the two ministers, Willy Claes and Guy Coëme, both men were given a lawful trial at the Court of Cassation. The trial of the five others who applied to the ECHR, Dassault, Hermanus, Delanghe, Puelinckx and Wallyn, at the Court of Cassation, was found to have contravened the European Convention on Human Rights, but their verdicts would stand nonetheless.
- ECHR judgment (in French)