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Analysis, Government, SREL

What led to early elections in Luxembourg?

Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker was forced to accept early elections after losing the support of his junior coalition partner on 10 July. At the origin of the government crisis is the mismanagement of Luxembourg’s intelligence service. From eavesdropping to car trafficking and with a whiff of the Cold War, the case has all the hallmarks of a full-blown political scandal. The irony of the matter is that the Prime Minister was the first known victim of the practices for which the opposition and his coalition partner are holding him responsible. How did it come this far? What led to Luxembourg’s first snap elections since 1969?

Wiretapping revelations

In November 2012, the weekly Lëtzebuerger Land published excerpts of a long private conversation between Jean-Claude Juncker and Marco Mille, the head of the Intelligence Service of the State of Luxembourg (SREL). A parliamentary committee of inquiry was set up a few weeks later to scrutinize the service. Suddenly, at the speed of a fictional crime drama, a series of shocking testimonies exposed the dubious practices of the secret service.

It was revealed that the recording uncovered by the Lëtzebuerger Land, and subsequently broadcast in full on two Luxembourg radio stations, was made by Marco Mille himself in 2007 with the help of a microphone hidden in his watch. The Prime Minister became aware of the recording in 2009. The scandal did not become public at the time, but instead precipitated the departure of the head of the intelligence service for the private sector.

Why record such a conversation? During the exchange, Marco Mille, who headed the SREL from 2003 to 2009, was manifestly trying to reconstruct a conversation between Juncker and Grand Duke Henri, which took place one or two years earlier. Surreptitiously recorded and encrypted on a CD, this conversation between the Prime Minister and the head of state allegedly contained “crushing” revelations, such as details of the involvement of the Grand Duke’s brother in a series of bombings thirty years ago, as well as damaging information on several government members.

Like in any good thriller, the plot included several troubling and extravagant characters. Depending on the storyline, they appeared as victims, perpetrators, informants or witnesses. This was the case of M., the engineer who encrypted the CD and the only witness of the alleged conversation between Jean-Claude Juncker and Grand Duke Henri. According to the Lëtzebuerger Land, Mille at one point claimed that M. was entertaining criminal links with a Thai prostitution and trafficking ring. Other key actors were a former senior government figure and D., a private detective hired by the SREL for its covert investigations and betrayed by an anonymous source.

The Bommeleeër trial

The secret service scandal broke on the eve of the most mediatised trial in Luxembourg’s history: the case of the Bommeleeër (“bomber” in Luxembourgish). Two former policemen are being prosecuted for a series of bombings that traumatized the peaceful Grand Duchy between 1984 and 1986. The airport, the police, a public pool and even a court building were the target of twenty explosions. For years, investigators struggled to discover the identity of the Bommeleeër, leaving the field open to all sorts of theories. The lengthy trial opened in February and has seen, amongst others, Jean-Claude Juncker, his predecessor Jacques Santer and the Grand Duke’s brother take the stand.

The most serious allegation of the trial is that a plot was hatched up by four constables (two have since died), probably with the support of a complicit hierarchy, to reveal shortcomings in the security apparatus so as to obtain greater human and material resources to carry out their job. But revelations about the SREL’s wiretapping and statements by a former agent have suddenly given new life to claims of a CIA and MI6 involvement – a theory also put forward by the defense lawyer, with the brains behind the operation being none other than Prince Jean, the brother of the Grand Duke! During the Cold War, NATO-controlled sleeper cells called “Stay Behind” operated all over Western Europe. Trained to become active in the event of a communist threat, some cells overstepped their role. A Gladio-type scenario involving the state’s upper echelons, with agents committing attacks to instill fear of a Red Menace, has been put forward. It also emerged during the hearings that the alibi provided by Prince Jean for the time of his alleged sighting on the scene of an attack had never been verified.

In the conversation published by the Letzebuerger Land, Marco Milles tells the Prime Minister: “We have credible reports that the Court, that the Grand Duke himself, entertains permanent contacts with the British intelligence services.” The grand ducal family has denied these allegations.

The role of the SREL in the Bommeleeër case had already previously come under scrutiny. The public prosecutor in particular had complained about a lack of cooperation and even attempts to obstruct the orderly investigation of a prime suspect at the time: the commander of a mobile gendarmerie unit – the same unit to which the two men being prosecuted once belonged. His background could provide the missing link between the two scenarios advanced in this case, as argued by Patrick Pesnot on France Inter based on the research of Swiss historian Daniel Ganser in his book Les Armées secrètes de l’Otan (NATO’s Secret Armies).

Spies go wild

Leaking confidential information for financial gain, economic espionage, data collection at the SREL – the committee of enquiry opened Pandora’s box. The ramifications of the wiretapping case have resulted in the opening of several criminal investigations.

Agents notably took advantage of their SREL links to obtain rebates on car prices (the agency’s fleet had to be renewed frequently to prevent the identification of vehicles used for surveillance) for the purpose of car trafficking. BMWs were purchased at a discount and sold on for profit to senior civil servants. Agents went on so-called trade missions to Iraq, Cuba and Libya looking to develop their own business opportunities. They also used agency money for unauthorized travel and to buy a home for a senior official. The head of operations, Frank Schneider, even set up his own security business, called “Sandstone”, while working at SREL and using its resources.

The SREL is also alleged to have been involved in politically-motivated sackings. Parliamentarians discovered details of operation “Katana” – an illegal investigation aimed at implicating the public prosecutor in charge of the Bommeleeër case, Robert Biever, in a case of pedophilia.

The 140-page report further cites deep mistrust between the SREL and the government. At one point, it said, Juncker pushed the intelligence agency to hire his chauffeur, who was also a former police officer. The agency balked, fearing the driver would be a mole for the Prime Minister – which proved to be true.

Parliament blames the Prime Minister

In its conclusion, the parliamentary probe blames the Prime Minister for the failure to put an end to the misconduct of the intelligence services when he was reportedly first made aware of it in 2006. As the minister in charge of the secret services, Juncker stands accused of letting the SREL develop a life of its own while he was busy dealing with EU affairs. In his address to Parliament, the rapporteur of the committee of enquiry François Bausch said that a half-dozen investigations were already underway or about to be launched but that “the statute of limitations may apply in certain cases” – a situation that he blames on the “lack of control” of the SREL by Jean-Claude Juncker.

However, the Prime Minister refused to lay down his arms in a combative two-hour speech following the presentation of the SREL report in Parliament on 10 June, even after being abandoned by the Socialists, his junior coalition partner.

Forced to accept early elections, Jean-Claude Juncker will be a candidate for his own succession.

(Sources: mediapart.fr, rtl.lu, land.lu, 100komma7.lu, wort.lu, spiegel.de, franceinter.fr)

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Countdown

Election dayOctober 20th, 2013
The big day is here.
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