Belgian gov't may tighten oversight of royal money

AP News
Posted: Jan 11, 2013 11:31 AM
Belgian gov't may tighten oversight of royal money

BRUSSELS (AP) — The Belgian government said Friday it will consider limiting financial support to the royal family after rebuking Queen Fabiola for setting up a special inheritance system widely seen as a tax dodge.

Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said he plans to change the system by which the royals get €15 million ($20 million) a year to fulfill their duties and force them to show what the funds are spent on.

Di Rupo said he wants "more transparency, so that we are aware of how the stipends of the royal family are handled."

The 84-year-old Fabiola is the widow of King Baudouin, who died in 1993. His brother, King Albert II, is now on the throne.

She is facing widespread accusations from politicians and media that a special private fund she set up is seeking to shield some of her fortune from inheritance taxes at a time when her people are struggling through tough economic times.

"Nobody should stand above the crisis. It is all hands on deck," Justice Minister Annemie Turtelboom said Friday as she joined in the rare display of government criticism of the royal family.

"The rift yawning between the efforts of the population in times of crisis and the fiscal behavior of Queen Fabiola is enormous," said Vice Premier Laurette Onkelinx.

The government called the queen's plan to create the private fund to deal with her inheritance ethically flawed, even if it was strictly legal.

Fabiola, who is childless, insisted in a statement on Thursday that none of the money granted by the government — almost €1.5 million ($2 million) a year — would be used in the new fund, which would only include her private money. She said she spends the government stipend on "housekeeping, of which the biggest part is staff wages."

The system of stipends to the leading members of the monarchy was supposed to be reviewed at the end of the reign of Albert II, who is now 78. Queen Fabiola's actions, however, has motivated the government to act earlier.

Under the current system, the government loses all control over the stipend once it is handed over. Under proposed reforms, it would demand transparency.

"It will allow the citizens to know what is being done ... including what the royal family does with taxpayers' money," Di Rupo told The Associated Press.

Under the reforms, stipends could also be cut or reduced to family members who are not in clear and direct line of succession.

"Fabiola will lose €500,000" a year, the Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper said on its front page Monday, or about one-third of her stipend once the new rules are approved.

It is the latest in a series of scandals to embroil the Belgian monarchy, one of the few remaining symbols that unite this divided nation of 6.5 million Dutch-speaking Flemings and 4.5 million French-speakers.