BRUSSELS – Guy Spitaels, a Belgian socialist leader who was convicted in 1998 of corruption along with ex-NATO Secretary General Willy Claes, has died of a brain tumor, his party said Tuesday. He was 80.
Spitaels held pivotal political jobs in national politics and in Wallonia, Belgium's French-speaking south, where the Socialist Party reigned supreme under his leadership but was never far from fraud and corruption allegations. He died late Monday or early Tuesday, local media reported.
Spitaels was party leader and premier of Wallonia in the 1980s when his party became embroiled in a bribery scandal linked to the purchase of Italian helicopters for the air force. He always denied any wrongdoing.
Details of the scandal first surfaced during the investigation into the July 1991 murder of a socialist power broker in Liege by two hired killers.
Bribe-taking charges also extended to socialist leaders in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, including Claes, then Belgium's economics minister. Claes received a three-year suspended prison sentence in 1998. Three years earlier, as the scandal was growing, he had quit in disgrace as NATO secretary general, the military alliance's top civilian job.
Spitaels received a two-year suspended sentence.