Kazakhgate – Parliamentary freedom of speech: the conviction of Georges Gilkinet confirmed in cassation

The conviction of the current Federal Minister Georges Gilkinet by the Liège Court of Appeal, for remarks he made in the media about businessman Patokh Chodiev when he was a Deputy and a member of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee on Kazakhgate, was confirmed in Cassation, according to a judgment of the High Court released on Wednesday by the defense of the Belgian-Uzbek businessman.

This judgment confirms that the non-liability of a parliamentarian (the fact of not being able to be prosecuted) for opinions or votes cast in the exercise of his functions does not cover the reaffirmation of these opinions or these speeches in the media. Mr. Gilkinet had made remarks incriminating the businessman, on the sidelines of the Commission of Inquiry into the criminal transaction from which one of the main figures of Kazakhgate had benefited, provoking several legal actions by the businessman.

In 2019, Patokh Chodiev was dismissed at first instance, the Namur court having declared his request inadmissible due to the constitutional protection of parliamentary privilege. But on appeal, in early January 2021, Mr. Georges Gilkinet was sentenced to a symbolic one euro in non-pecuniary damage.

The Cassation decision, which dates from November 22, “is major and comes to restore the facts”, according to Patokh Chodiev’s counsel, Mr Pascal Vanderveeren. “It demonstrates that the Belgian judiciary remains independent and sovereign, basing its decisions on the law. This decision finally demonstrates that respect for the law is binding on all citizens, including leading politicians”, he added, denouncing “the sensationalism of spectacle politics”.

During Mr. Gilkinet’s conviction on appeal, several constitutional experts were surprised at this interpretation of Article 58 of the Constitution, some calling for it to be reviewed to adapt it to contemporary reality.

The Patokh Chodiev camp claims victory

In 22 pages, the Court of Cassation therefore considered that there was no “fault” in the decision taken on appeal in this case, a decision now final. No protection for statements made in the media in this case. The Court dismissed the appeal and “ordered the plaintiff to pay the costs”. Minister Gilkinet “takes note”. Respecting the separation of powers and the different levels of appeal of our justice, it stops there. No further comments. And there is no question of going before the European Court of Human Rights to invoke in particular the freedom of expression of parliamentarians.

On the side of Patokh Chodiev, his counsel Mr Pascal Vanderveeren, says he is necessarily satisfied, judging the Cassation decision “major and which comes to restore the facts. It demonstrates that Belgian justice remains independent and sovereign, basing its decisions on the law. This decision finally demonstrates that respect for the law is binding on all citizens, including leading politicians. No one can wrongly accuse another without having to bear the legal consequences. And this, whether you are a Member of Parliament for opposition or Deputy Prime Minister. This judicial decision is the victory of the rule of law over the sensationalism of show politics carried out at the expense of Belgian citizens”.

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