Thursday, June 13, 2013

Luxarazzi 101: Bombs, Bugging Devices and a Whole Lot of Questions

One thing upfront: This is about the fifth attempt to tackle the following subject and it has been a hard task but due to popular request, we're now finally covering it. I'm neither an expert for the darkest recesses of Luxembourgish politics or cold war NATO operations nor for intelligence services in general or the Luxembourgish one in particular. I have been loosely following the news on the matter over the last few weeks and months but certainly am not an expert. So if there are any mistakes or inaccuracies in the following article, my apologies! (If you have any corrections, let us know!)

On a similar note, the following article is simply an outline of things that have happened and are still happening, mainly focusing on the Grand Ducal Family. Originally it had been planned to write an article about the whole mess (which you could write a book about - actually, there has been written a book about, at least, part of the mess) but a longer article would be too exhaustive and exhausting.

The reason for the cancelled economic mission to Switzerland has a long background story. Today both Luxembourg's government in general and its minister for finance, Luc Frieden, in particular faced votes of no confidence in parliament. (Both motions did not have enough votes so both the government and Frieden stay in office.) The reason behind the censure motion was the claim that the minister had tried to pressure investigators to close inquiries into a series of bombings that happened in the Grand Duchy during the 1980's. 

In fact, the fish is even bigger. A series of revelations about the work of the Service de renseignement de l'État (SREL), the country's intelligence service, as well as the trial in the Affair Bommeleeër, which started earlier this year, and the involvement of politicians in it have kept the Grand Duchy busy over the last weeks and months. Even the Grand Ducal Family has been entangled in the story all along but let's start at the beginning.

During the 1980's, a series of bomb attacks shocked Luxembourg. Between May 1984 and April 1986, 20 bombs exploded in different parts of the country. Among the attacked targets were a meeting of the European heads of states and governments, power poles, infrastructure facilities, public buildings, the country's biggest newspaper, the former head of police and others. No one was killed in the bombings though in some cases it was pure luck.

To this day, it is not clear who was behind the bombings. In February, a trial against two former members of the Brigade Mobile de la Gendarmerie, a special police force, started though the motives of the accused remain unclear. Some claim that the two men are used as pawns as to cover up the real bombers or something along those lines.

Conspiracy theories have been flying high in the Grand Duchy since the 1980's and one of them actually included a member of the Grand Ducal Family, namely Prince Jean, younger brother of Grand Duke Henri.

For some reason rumours about an involvement of the prince in the bombings started in the late 1980's, at that point in time there was no prove to the story than mere gossip on the street. That is until May 1987 when a policeman brings Prince Jean up for discussion as the bomb planter. It did not help either that the prince had just recounced his rights to the throne citing business reasons, little did  Luxembourg know that he had fathered a child out of wedlock. Inquiries by the police were made but nothing came out of it.

Nevertheless, the story lingered for many years and gained momentum about 20 years later. During a TV documentary by RTL in 2005, a man came forward claiming to have seen a well known person on 9 November 1985 at 3:30am at the crossing of the Rue de l'Europe and the Route de Trêves near Findel Airport, about 450 metres from the place where at 10pm that night a bomb would explode. Only during a meeting with the prime minister he would reveal who the well known person was.

Eventually, prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker did meet with the man and he revealed the person to be no other than Prince Jean, second son of Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte. About a month later, the prince was interrogated by the police.

Prince Jean told the police that during the night in question he wasn't even in Luxembourg but hunting in France, in the forests of the Département Loir-et-Cher near Orléans. His alibi was both supported by members of the Giscard d'Estaing family who had organised the hunt and members of his own family as well as through a letter from Hélène Vestur, the prince's later wife, which said that she would rather like him to spend the weekend in Paris.

Inquiries showed that the testimony by the man who had claimed to have seen Prince Jean was shaky as some of his statements did not add up. In addition, the prince could prove that he was abroad while many of the other bombings occurred.

Nevertheless, the details surrounding the interogation of Prince Jean are a little fishy. It is said that he and prosecutor Robert Biever met up at Prince Guillaume's place in advance of Jean's questioning to to have an off the record briefing discussion. In addition, the prosecutor was present when the prince met with the police as Prince Jean refused to speak to the two policemen alone. These are the reasons why both Prince Jean and Prince Guillaume are among those questioned during the ongoing Bommeleeër trial.

Other theories claim that people involved with the Stay-behind organisations were behind the bombings. These NATO and CIA sponsored organisations existed in different European countries during the cold war in case their countries were to be taken over by the Warsaw Pact or if communist parties would come to power in democratic elections. According to Martin Packard in his book 'Getting It Wrong: Fragments From a Cyprus Diary 1964' they were "financed, armed, and trained in covert resistance activities, including assassination, political provocation and disinformation."

Late last year a scandal of its own was uncovered in relation to the Service de renseignement de l'État (SREL): It came to light that the intelligence service had conducted a number of warrantless eavesdroppings with bugging devices in watches and such from 2005 to 2008. (More bugging scandals happened earlier but aren't as important for the story.)

Among the illegal wiretappings happened to be a conversation between prime minister Juncker and Grand Duke Henri. During the meeting, which happened after Juncker had met with the man who had claimed to have seen Prince Jean near Findel Airport, the two talked about a possible involvement and interogation of Prince Jean. In addition, they supposedly also talked about contacts between the Grand Duke and his cour with the British MI6. The audio recording of the conversations could not yet be decoded.

In another bugged meeting between Juncker and the former head of the SREL, Marco Mille, the intelligencer claimed that Grand Duke Henri had regular contacts with the British secret service saying that the head of state had tried to get bugging devices from the MI6 without the knowledge of the SREL. Mille assumed that the cour wanted to use those to spy on members of staff and other officials that they were suspicious of. Whether those surveillance devices ever made their way to Luxembourg remains unclear.

In addition, Mille claimed to have come to the knowledge that the police officers at the service of the Grand Duke were forming some kind of a private army, not trusted by both the SREL and the police headquarters.

Both Juncker and the cour have denied any relationships between the Grand Duke and her Majesty's secret service.

Who knew that so much was going on in the little Grand Duchy! It all sounds like it was take straight out of a spy thriller... I'm sure that it will keep Luxembourg busy for the weeks and months to come.

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