New espionage scandal spotlights Brussels's long-standing intelligence concerns
Belgium's Defence minister, Ludivine Dedonder, has described reports of far-right politician Frank Creyelman's collaboration with a Chinese spy and the possible involvement of his brother, MP Steven Creyelman, as "extremely worrying for our national security, our democracy and our institutions". It is not the first time that espionage has been uncovered in Brussels, a major hub for diplomats from around the world.
Parliament speaker Eliane Tillieux has asked for more information on the possible involvement of MP and chair of the Armed Forces Procurement Committee Steven Creyelman in his brother's collaboration with Chinese intelligence. "If the facts are proven, parliament will take all the necessary measures," she told Belga.
"If the facts are proven, parliament will take all the necessary measures"
Frank Creyelman, a former MP for the Flemish far-right party Vlaams Belang, was recruited by Chinese spies for more than three years to influence politics in favour of Beijing, according to investigations by the Financial Times, Le Monde and Der Spiegel. Vlaams Belang's executive committee decided to expel Creyelman from the party "with immediate effect", party leader Tom Van Grieken announced on Friday.
'Several hundred spies'
The scandal is indicative of a long-standing espionage problem for Brussels, and the EU as a whole. With many European and international organisations based in Brussels, the city has become a hub for diplomats from around the world - and therefore for intelligence services. Today, 300 diplomatic and consular missions are based in Brussels, employing 26,000 diplomats.
Although impossible to quantify, espionage in Brussels has long been a known fact. One notable example came to light in 2003, when counter-intelligence services discovered five black suitcases containing surveillance equipment walled up in the headquarters of the European Council. Exact figures are not available, but Belgian intelligence sources speak of "several hundred spies" operating in Brussels, public broadcaster VRT reported recently.
In April 2022, shortly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, 21 Russian diplomats had to leave Belgium after being declared persona non grata. However, it is not only Russian intelligence services that have shown an interest in Brussels. Rwandan and Congolese intelligence services, for example, have been known to keep tabs on opposition figures living in Belgium. China, in particular, is known to have been very active in Brussels in recent years.
© PHOTO AFP / THIERRY CHARLIER