Luxembourg calls elections after spy scandal


Sun, Jul 21, 2013 - Page 6

Luxembourg on Friday called a general election for Oct. 20 after Luxembourgian Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker was caught up in a scandal over misconduct by the small wealthy country’s spy agencies, the royal palace said.

“His Royal Highness the Grand Duke decided to dissolve parliament as of October 7, new elections being fixed for October 20,” seven months ahead of schedule but leaving Juncker fully in charge, a statement said.

Eighteen years in power and Europe’s longest-serving leader, Juncker is perhaps best known for chairing the Eurogroup of finance ministers throughout the debt crisis of recent years.

He stepped down from that role earlier this year, but after a parliamentary committee alleged illegal telephone taps and corruption for much of the past decade, his governing coalition collapsed nine days ago with opponents saying Juncker had overlooked domestic affairs.

Grand Duke Henri’s decision means that Juncker remains prime minister at the head of his government, rather than serve in a caretaker capacity up to the polls. Parliament, too, continues until Oct. 7.

The statement said that this was to avoid a “prolonged period” of uncertainty but the decision ran contrary to a recommendation issued on Thursday by the country’s top administrative court.

Juncker, 58, is running again for the top job.

With three decades of government experience, he short-circuited a planned censure motion that would have seen his government fall immediately on Wednesday last week.

However, despite a pledge to recommend early polls to the Grand Duke, who heads a tiny country of about half a million people, he refused to resign formally.

Henri on Friday called on all the country’s politicians to conduct a “dignified” campaign that would restore a “climate of confidence” among citizens.

Juncker had told parliament earlier that “the intelligence service was not my top priority.”

Critics, though, complained that it was implausible Juncker had not known what was going on within a tiny intelligence community.

An inquiry into the intelligence service SREL was ordered lastyear after it transpired that it had secretly taped a conversation in 2007 between Juncker and its then-head, Marco Mille.

According to a transcript of that conversation, Mille said his staff had secretly taped a conversation with Luxembourg’s Grand Duke and that the sovereign was in regular contact with Britain’s MI6 secret service.

The inquiry uncovered 13,000 secret files on people and businesses, and illegal wiretaps on business leaders.

It found too that an apparent 2007 counter-terror operation was in fact a front to help a Russian oligarch pay US$10 million to a Spanish spy.

Juncker had ordered the operation closed but had not sanctioned those responsible, the report said.

Juncker also allegedly failed to alert the judiciary to a US$150 million deposit in 2006 by former Republic of the Congo president Pascal Lissouba.

Juncker’s Christian Social People’s Party has won every single election in Luxembourg since its establishment in 1944 except one poll in 1974.