Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Luxarazzi 101: Prince Jean and the Affair Bommeleeër

The Affair Bommeleeër and an alleged involvement of the Grand Duke's brother, Prince Jean in the case remains a story of interest for many. Back in June last year, we already wrote about the story in relation to the secret service scandal that had just broken and ultimately led to new elections and a new government for the Grand Duchy. This time around, we are solely going to focus on the alleged involvement of Prince Jean.

Last year, the so-called Bommeleeër (bomb planter) trial started. At the center of the trial are two members of the Brigade mobile de la Gendarmerie (BMG), an elite police unit, accused of being responsible for 18 bombings that shook Luxembourg between May 1984 and April 1986. The accused Josh Wilmes and Marco Scheer are alleged to have carried out the bombings with two other now-deceased colleagues. The alleged aim of the bombings was to achieve increased funding for law enforcement. Whether Wilmes and Scheer actually are among the bombers remains unclear. 

While the prosecution has sought to prove that the two elite policemen were behind the attacks, the defense has argued that those responsible were members of the NATO-led Stay Behind network. A possible Stay Behind involvement was supported by a statement of the son of a former German intelligence officer who coordinated the missions in Germany as well as the Benelux countries during the 1980's. Similar attacks happened during the same time in Italy to create the conditions for a political shift to the right. Curiously according to state attorney Robert Biever, no fewer than 88 from a total of 125 pieces of evidence disappeared in the course of the investigation of the two accused. The list of witnesses summoned to give testimonies in front of the criminal court reads like the who is who of Luxembourgish society: former prime ministers, government and secret service officials, historians, policemen, and two members of the Grand Ducal Family, Prince Jean and his younger brother Prince Guillaume.

Rumours about a possible involvement of Prince Jean in the bombings started sometime in the 1980's. The exact reason for those rumours -- Do rumours have a reason? -- is hard to find these days. The rumours, however, were fueled by two occurrences, the statement of a Luxembourgish police officer and Prince Jean's renunciation of his rights to the throne.

On September 26, 1986, the cour grand-ducale suddenly announced that Prince Jean, the second of three sons of Grand Duke Jean, had renounced his rights to the Luxembourgish throne citing "business reasons". Earlier that same month, Prince Jean had become the father of a little daughter named Marie-Gabrielle but little did the Luxembourgish public know about the happy news. Prince Jean wasn't married to the mother of his daughter, Hélène Vestur, and the pregnancy and birth kept a secret.

Photo: Point de Vue
When asked by Point de Vue which baby names she liked, Hélène stated at the time of their wedding in 1987, that she would like to call a daughter Marie-Gabrielle. Only when the couple's second child, a boy named Constantin, was born, a girl suddenly appeared with the family in Point de Vue pictures. That girl was Marie-Gabrielle. Neither she nor Constantin held a title after their births but only the surname 'Nassau'. Only in 1995, Prince Jean's children and wife were elevated to the rank of Counts and Countesses of Nassau and Marie-Gabrielle, Constantin, Wenceslas and Carl became Princesses and Princes of Nassau in November 2004.

The Luxembourgish public did not know about the real reasons for Prince Jean's renunciation of his rights (the birth of his daughter) and thus speculated whether there might have been others than "business reasons", an explanation that never seemed very convincing to most.

In May 1987, former policeman and founder of the BMG Ben Geiben - himself implicated to have been involved in the bombings - held a lecture about terrorism. After the lecture Geiben, another high-ranking policeman named Marc Zovilé and Henri Roemer, at the time consul in Paris, met for dinner. During the dinner, Zovilé told Roemer about the rumours of a possible involvement of Prince Jean in the bombings. Asked why he repeated these rumours, Zovilé stated during the trial last November that he had simply wanted to inform Roemer as the Grand Ducal Family regularly spent time in Paris. What Zovilé's motives were and whether he had tried to falsely implicate Prince Jean to draw attention from others remain unclear. The fact, however, that a high-ranking official repeated the rumours gave a whole new impetus to the story.

The fact that Zovilé had told the rumours to Roemer and Geiben soon reached the ears of the cour grand-ducale and Zovilé and his boss Aloyse Harpes were summoned to the palais. The court marshall of the time, Raymond Hastert, was furious and told the two policemen that rumours told by a high-ranking official have a much heavier weight than rumours on the street.

For the next twenty years or so, the rumours of a possible involvement of Prince Jean as one of the bomb planters lingered in the Grand Duchy but only gained momentum in 2005. Meanwhile, the police and prosecution weren't successful in finding those behind the bombs and so TV station RTL started an own investigation.

On November 9, 2005, RTL broadcasted a programme about the Affair Bommeleeër during which an anonymous witness claimed to have seen a well-known person at the junction of the Rue de l'Europe and the Route de Trêves near Findel Airport at 3am exactly 20 years earlier. At 10pm that same day, a bomb exploded about 450 meters from where the anonymous person, who later turned out to be Eugène Beffort, had seen the well-known one. Beffort, however, refused to reveal the identity of the person to TV cameras, but only did so in a meeting with prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker five days later.

Beffort, who died in 2012, claimed to have seen Prince Jean sitting in a car and to have reported the car and its license plate to the police. In 2005, Beffort further told prosecutors that shortly after the attack on Findel Airport, two policemen came to his house threatening him to never tell anyone again that he had seen Prince Jean near the airport during the night prior to the bombings; otherwise it would have dire consequences for him.

According to statements of the prosecutors, it is doubtful how believable Beffort's statements are as he changed a few details, such as Prince Jean's hair colour as well as the colour of the car, numerous times. Beffort also said that he was on the way to his job to work overtime though he only arrived there hours later at 7am. There was no evidence to be found about two policemen visiting Beffort after the Findel attack or of them continuing to put pressure on him not to talk about an involvement of Prince Jean in the following years. Lastly, nobody knows whether Beffort actually called the police after the attack on November 9 as nobody can remember a call and the tapes have been deleted a long time ago.

Photo: Luxemburger Wort /
On December 9, 2005, Prince Jean was scheduled to give a statement to the police. About a week prior to that, he and prosecutor Robert Biever, however, met up at Prince Guillaume's house in advance of Jean's questioning to to have an off the record briefing discussion. Apparently, the meeting was organised by the then minister of justice Luc Frieden. Biever is also present during the questioning of Prince Jean by the police as the prince had apparently refused to talk to the police without the prosecutor present. While nothing about this is wrong per se, it is not common and probably wouldn't have happened for a non-royal, not well-connected person.

During the questioning, Prince Jean told the police that Beffort couldn't have seen him at 3am on November 9, 1985 near Findel Airport as he did not spend that day in the Grand Duchy but instead was hunting in the forests of Loir-et-Cher near Orléans in France. To support his statement, Prince Jean gave the police a letter by his then fiancée Hélène Vestur in which she wrote that she would rather like him to spend the weekend in Paris with her. According to prosecutor Marc Weis, Prince Jean's alibi is supported by the organiser of the hunt Louis Giscard d’Estaing, former politician and son of former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. By contrast the lawyer of the accused, Gaston Vogel, states that Giscard d'Estaing stated that Prince Jean only arrived for the hunt on November 9. This inconsistencies are the main reasons for Prince Jean summoned to appear in front of the court. Prince Guillaume shall support his alibi and likely also talk about the off the record meeting prior to the interrogation of his brother.

During his interrogation, Prince Jean was also able to give the police information about his whereabouts for some of the other bombings happening between May 1984 and April 1986. For quite a number of them, he wasn't even within the Grand Duchy. In addition, a few other indicators provided by journalists over the years have been disproven by the prosecutors. Prince Jean did not have a close relationship with Ben Geiben, he did not write a threatening letter to his father Grand Duke Jean in 1978 - that was either Grand Duke Henri or Prince Guillaume but not Prince Jean - he did not learn how to handle explosives while at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, he did not have firing practices at the Grand Ducal villa in Heisdorf as the shooting range in the basement had been deconstructed after the family purchased the house, and he also did not receive 70 or 87 Luxembourgish francs to renounce his rights to the throne. Some have also alleged that the prince was involved with the Anti-Communist League but that is no prove to that story either. Thus, it seems that Prince Jean neither had the knowledge to be the Bommeleeër nor a reason to blackmail his family with bombs to give him money. And I hope that he was smarter than to get involved with a Stay Behind organisation.

After already appearing in court in the beginning of the trial and previously stating that they are willing to testify, Prince Jean and Prince Guillaume have now been summoned to appear in court. They were summoned on request of the lawyers of the accused to be questioned about the inconsistencies of the hunting alibi and the meeting at Prince Guillaume's house. It's interesting to note that one of the lawyers is Gaston Vogel, a man who could probably only be described as Grand Duke Henri's and the monarchy's biggest critic. Prior to Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume's wedding, Vogel wrote a letter to them prime minister Juncker protesting about the costs of the wedding and threatening to found a republican party. While I'm not sure if he still wishes to do so, lawyer Vogel has also stated in the past that he would like Hélène Vestur and Louis Giscard d’Estaing to appear in front of the court.

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