By Willy van Damme
11 July 2018 seemed to be a great day for the 32-year-old Moroccan businesswoman and activist Kaoutar Fal. After being detained for 42 days in Belgium in a closed centre for illegals, she was released on the 10th July after four court proceedings on the orders of the Brussels Court of Appeal.
Who and why
A little after 12 o’clock she left her Brussels apartment to go to the European Parliament (EP) . She had a few appointments there, including with the President of the Parliament, Antonio Tajani. This was her first opportunity to discuss her work with the EP since her arrival in Belgium. Kaoutar started organizing a series of activities and making contacts in her capacity as a consultant.
She was just on the way to the appointments with her friends when two men stopped her and demanded that they go with them. “We asked for their identification and did not get it, but they obliged me to get in the car. And without my company, “said Kaoutar Fal. Rezi and Moishe Friedman who accompanied her confirm that this was indeed what happened, and subsequently made statements to that effect to the police.
In effect, Kaoutar had been kidnapped. Her mobile phone had been taken from her. The question consequently arises: by whom? Who wanted to prevent her from talking to people in the European Parliament? And especially why? And those ‘who’ seemed to be State Security. Who else?
Like a criminal
Everything seemed to go smoothly on 29 May 2018 for the Moroccan 32-year-old Kaoutar Fal when she took the plane for Charleroi from Casablanca in Morocco. She had received a visa in October 2016 which was valid for 38 months, and also arranged a set of appointments. Together with a series of meetings planned with members of the European Parliament, including its Chairman, everything looked rosy for this lady with strong ambitions.
If we are to believe our State Security, then Kaoutar Fal is a state-threatening spy working for the Moroccan intelligence services, officially friends of our State Security. Some members of the press described her as a modern day Moroccan Mata Hari.
What she did not know, however, was that her two-year visa had been revoked at the request of the State Security in March 2018. A note had been made of this on 15 March 2018. And although her address was known at the Belgian embassy, nobody had bothered to inform her about it. She came to visit us in the middle of May.
Kaoutar Fal: “It was a big shock to me. I come in many countries and have never had any problems. And suddenly, without knowing what was going on, I was locked up in a room with criminals. This from 11 pm until 11 pm the following day. It was also Ramadan and I had not yet eaten. It took me a whole day before I could finally eat. Moreover, my luggage, cell phone and passport had also been taken away.”
On May 30th 2018 she was transported to the Caricole transit center in Steenokkerzeel where illegals are held pending deportation. She was denied possession of both her passport and her mobile phone. Eventually she succeeded in contacting the Antwerp Rabbi Moishe Friedman, whose acquaintance she had made at the inter-religious conference held in the European Parliament on 7 March 2017 which she had helped organize.
Friedman quickly contacted Kati Verstrepen, an Antwerp lawyer specializing in immigration problems. As a result, the Council for Aliens Disputes ordered her release on 6 June 2018, following the decision by the Immigration Department to detain her. But whoever thought she would be free was mistaken, as she continued to be held in Caricole despite the legal ruling in her favour: it was simply ignored.
The position of the Immigration Office in relation to the court order was that it was over-ruled on the grounds that State Security considered her to constitute a ‘danger to Belgian society’. No evidence in this respect was provided however. In their view, the opinion of the State Security services was sufficient justification. That opinion claimed that she was a threat to the Belgian state on the grounds that she was employed by the Moroccan spy services – presumably the DGED, the Direction générale des etudes – and had contacts with people from other ‘offensive espionage services’. No evidence of this was provided however. While the media repeated these claims, the official Belgian Government statement on her case was somewhat more vague: (the English version follows the French original)
“Selon la Sûreté de l’Etat, l’intéressée (Kaoutar Fal, ed.) et ses organisations sont activement impliquées dans des activités de renseignement au profit du Maroc. Elle est également en contact avec des personnes qui sont connues de la Sûreté de l’Etat pour leurs activités en faveur de services de renseignement étrangers offensifs.”
“According to the State Security, the person concerned (Kaoutar Fal, ed.) and her organizations are actively involved in gathering information for the benefit of Morocco. Moreover, she is also in contact with persons who are known to the State Security for their activities in favor of offensive foreign intelligence services.”
Where is the proof ?
All strong claims, but where is the evidence? Nowhere. A government department makes a statement that is very onerous for the person concerned but does not provide the slightest justification. How is the the rule of law being ignored here ?
Moreover, this was a decision in the first instance, which in practice means that there is only a minimal chance of a successful appeal. For example, it appears that the position of the State Security on these matters cannot be challenged. This is contrary to the rule of law. As a result, Attorney Kati Verstrepen decided that there was little point in any further legal action.
Even more striking is the fact that the Moroccan DGED and our State Security have been working together for decades since the arrival of many Moroccan guest workers in the mid-1960s. This is an open secret. Last year, on 11 June, a new cooperation agreement was concluded between Morocco, Spain, France and Belgium on the exchange of data on terror and immigration.
It is consequently extremely unlikely that people who were in fact working for the DGED would be publicly expelled from Belgium. Any problems between these services would normally be resolved in private, and not made open to the public. This was apparently the case with the Abdelkader Belliraj affair (1).
Kaoutar Fal was understandably angry with the way she had been treated, and together with Moishe Friedman wrote a letter of complaint both to the lawyer Kati Verstrepen and to the chairman at the Antwerp Bar. One of her main points was that her treatment was at odds with due process in a democratically constituted state. Kati Verstrepen wrote that:
“By judgment of 6 June the suspension of both decisions (cancellation of visa and order for removal from Belgian territory, ed.) was ordered. In a normal legal system, Mrs Fal would have been given access to the territory at that time. However, not in Belgium, where the foreign affairs department instructs the staff not to release her because they were preparing a new decision. In spite of my insistence to the contrary, Mrs Fal is still locked up”.
And then on 7 June 2018 there was indeed a new decision from the Immigration Department which for the first time included a brief explanation of the position of the State Security. Following this decision Mrs Fal’s lawyer wrote to the chairman:
“We explained to Mrs Fal and Mr Friedman that a new request for suspension from the RvV (Council for Aliens Disputes, ed.) has no chance of success … The lack of respect of the executive power for the judgments of the judiciary is a bad thing”.
A second attempt, this time without a lawyer, also failed. Nevertheless, the Chamber of Indictment ordered her release on 10 July 2018, and Mrs Fal was then freed. The basis of the order was that she had been unlawfully detained following the statement made by the Council for Foreigners’ Disputes released on 6 July.
Nevertheless, her freedom was short-lived as the following day she was picked up in suspicious circumstances and transported to the closed transit center 127bis in Steenokkerzeel on 12 July, where she was retained until she agreed to return to Morocco: which she did on 24 July.
With blue flashing light
KaoutarFal: “I left my apartment after 12 o’clock and suddenly two gentlemen on the Luxembourg site came to me who claimed to be from the police and demanded that I go with them. When I asked for their proof, they did not want to give it. Nevertheless, they took me anyway and rode at high speed and with a blue flashing light through the streets of Brussels. Donald Trump was in Brussels that day, but they had no problem with the series of police checks on the road. They even went into prohibited driving directions and eventually stopped at a kind of garage where I was held until about 6 o’clock. ”
Former German MEP Frank Schwalba-Hoth who was nearby stated that: “they asked for her passport, and because she had no passport – as it had been retained on her arrival in Charleroi – said that she would be taken to the police station near the Grote Markt. But in fact she just disappeared.”
Eventually they delivered her that evening to the headquarters of the federal police at the Brussels Koningsstraat 202A. “They also demanded that I sign a paper beforehand, but I refused. I also had to undress completely and was shackled” said Kaoutar Fal. It was apparently too late that day to drop her off in Steenokkerzeel. For Moishe Friedman and his daughter Rezi this was a shocking experience. Rezi, however, quickly called the emergency centre 101 to report the case to the police. Her conversation with them was recorded. From the subsequent transcript of more than 17 minutes it is clear that the police services in Brussels knew nothing about the incident. It was striking that there was a long silence after the emergency centre asked for the personal data relating to Kaoutar Fal. They subsequently stated that a police patrol had been alerted to search for Kaoutar.
Given that the 101 centres have access to continuously updated data in which all incidents are reported where the police are involved, it would appear that they were checking for a possible kidnapping. A former senior police officer with years of experience in Brussels stated that “not all police operations are included in the data held by the emergency center, but these are secret operations, such as against serious criminals and terrorists, where our people also wear a balaclava.” And that was not the case here. One of the alleged police officers was perfectly recognizable.
Kaoutar Fal said that for her ”all this was like a kind of bad dream, a nightmare. But I am divorced and have two small children aged 6 and 8 who I have to take care of alone. In the meantime, my father has died. Moreover, given that some of the media wrote about me, all this has been damaging to my professional reputation. I am not going to leave it at this. Their claims are based on nothing and proven by nothing. There was a conversation in Caricole with a lady named Julie who talked about my contacts in the European Parliament and she did not seem to appreciate that I had contacts there. I also do not even deal with politics anyway.”
The mud throwers
That there is reputational damage becomes clear from internet searches. These would appear to associate her with some of Morocco’s long-standing political disputes, including the Berbers – with the nationalist activist Adra Ghedu – and the former Spanish Sahara. The name of Michael Freilich of Jewish News also appears, and he is known to be critical of Moishe Friedman and his work. The Kaoutar Fal family originates from the region around Dakhla in the former Spanish Sahara which is now partly occupied by Mauritania and Morocco. She nevertheless fully supports Morocco’s position on this issue. The name Fal is typical of the region. For example, there was the Mauritanian president Ely Ould Mohammed Fal (alternate Vall) with whom she had contacts from 2005 to 2007. Since the Spanish withdrawal in 1975, the area has been claimed by a local resistance movement, the Polisario, which has the support of Algeria, which has difficult relations with Morocco, and which operates from refugee camps in the Algerian Tindouf: albeit with little success.
The media coverage also appears to have reflected contemporary developments in the Antwerp municipal elections, where Kris Peeters on behalf of CD & V was opposing the mayor, Bart De Wever of the N-VA. This was a strongly contested election, with a good deal of mud-slinging via such media channels as Doorbraak. One of the CD & V candidates was Rezi Friedman, a daughter of Moishe Friedman and former student at the Karel de Grote Hogeschool where she had been honored as an outstanding student.
As a result, she and her father Moishe became a target of Michael Freilich of the influential Jewish News and clearly a supporter of Bart De Wever and the N-VA. Freilich subsequently became a candidate for that party for the federal parliamentary elections of 26 May 2018. The Kaoutar Fal affair provided a good opportunity to criticize Moishe Friedman and his daughter Rezi, a CD & V candidate. Further attacks were mounted by the Dutch Berber nationalist, Adra Ghedu. Without any proof or mention of sources he made critical statements of Rezi Friedman which appeared to undermine her status as a bona fide CD & V candidate. He claimed, for example, that Kaoutar Fal used large amounts of cash provided by the Moroccan security services which – by implication – were used as inducements to get people to support her claims of innocence(2).
Furthermore, Ghedu – who was unavailable for comment – also claimed that Moishe Friedman and Kaoutar were lovers. Michael Freilich took this point up and added that Kaoutar had used the Antwerp address of Moishe Friedman for her legal case, which was also the address where Rezi Friedman lived. The implication was consequently that the CD & V candidate was involved with the Moroccan spy service. (3) There were also suggestions that Kris Peeters had previously been linked to the Antwerp drug trade. Ghedu’s story, published on news web-sites and the internet magazine for Berber nationalists, the Amazigh Times, was taken up not only by the Spanish media, but also by the Russian Pravda (4) which stated that ‘journalist’ Moishe Friedman was going to make sure that Kaoutar would get Belgian nationality by marrying her. The story then was that Mrs Fal was a spy, and that the statements made by Moshe and Rezi Friedman concerning her innocence and kidnapping were simply untrue. According to Freilich, it was Rezi’s mother, Lea Rosenzweig who telephoned the 101 emergency service, and it was the police who had arrested Kaoutar. These statements are nevertheless demonstrably inaccurate.
Kaoutar Fal may have left Belgium but the issues surrounding her case remain. A complaint was lodged with the Brussels investigating judge and with the I Committee – which is responsible for our security services on behalf of Parliament and publishes a report every year on the operation of these services. A complaint has also been lodged with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg further to the way she was treated by the Belgian State Security and the Immigration Office. A freedom of information request has been submitted for sight of the documents drawn up in this case by the Immigration Department, the police and the State Security. It appears clear from the original police documents that they were not responsible for apprehending her.
The current Administrator-General of State Security, Jaak Raes, has not been forthcoming with any helpful information. In his response of 07 December 2018 he stated that:
“In view of the specific nature of an intelligence service, the operation of State Security is by definition secret. The publication of documents from this service may reveal the modus operandi and ongoing investigations and as such present a danger to the persons who cooperate with the service or for their relations with foreign intelligence services.”
This means he is effectively stating that all information about Kaoutar Fal is secret and therefore nothing can be released about it. She has consequently faced a wall of secrecy without being knowing what she is trying to defend herself against. However, in a similar case (5) on 7 June 2004, the Council of State did order State Security to release information about a specific person. In retrospect however it appeared that the lady concerned did not have a case to answer according to two of those who had been involved. According to the story on this case, ‘The lady still works as an interpreter at the criminal court in Antwerp’.
In its advisory report of 14 January, the Committee for the Access to and Reuse of Administrative Documents, referring to the earlier judgment of the Council of State, the administration of justice of the Constitutional Court and its earlier opinions, stated that:
“On the basis of the case law of the Council of State and its own advisory practice, the Committee is of the opinion that the Security of the State seriously fails to abide by its own legislation in refusing to give access to the requested administrative documents.”
The logic of this statement is that Jaak Raes and the State Security are accountable to the Council of State for their refusal to provide access to this case file.
The blunder brigade
But this is not the only story of a State Security that has long since lost its way. There is also the story of the singer Soetkin Baptist (Collier) who on May 24, 2003 with the group Urban Trad Belgium represented the country at the Eurovision Song Contest in the Latvian capital Riga. She too was, according to State Security, dangerous and associated with the NSV and VNJ groups linked to Vlaams Belang. As a result of these claims it became impossible for her to go to Riga.
It subsequently turned out that she had indeed moved in such circles, but many years ago and has since clearly broken with them. These associations had been a consequence of the earlier influence of her parents. Committee I was consequently critical of the State Security: but the damage to the lady’s reputation remained. One has the impression that the Kautar Fal case is similar in this respect.
Another story about the blunder brigade occurred in September 2016 when the Chinese State Grid, the government company that manages the Chinese electricity grid, wanted to invest 930 million euros in Eandis Assets, the Belgian energy distributor. This raised fears that technology might be stolen from Eandis, despite the fact that the Chinese company stated that its technology was purchased from companies such as General Electric.
Some members of the European Parliament have been critical of what has happened to Kaoutar Fal. Jürgen Kluten a former member of parliament for Die Linke and now a lobbyist has asked whether the former Secretary of State for Immigration Theo Francken (N-VA) is behind this. “Did he want to silence a critical voice ?” he asked. The Forum for Religious Freedom Europe has also written a letter about this to our Minister of Justice Koen Geens (7): the State Security comes under the Minister of Justice.
The case of Kaoutar Fal is far from over. For example, the Moroccan parliamentarian Amina Talbi (Union socialist des forces popular) questioned Nasser Bourita, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, about the case in the Moroccan parliament. No answer has yet been forthcoming. As far as the media are concerned, a televised debate about the case is planned. One of the questions will be how Kaoutar was transferred to the federal police on 11 July. Is there any documentary evidence on this and her subsequent transfer the next day to Steenokkerzeel. It remains to be seen what will be revealed. Moishe Friedman, who has involved himself in this case, does not intend to let it lie: and nor does it seem that Kaoutar Fal will do so either. Hanging over all of this is the question what extent our State Security here have impeded the proper functioning of the European Parliament.
1) Abdelkader Belliraj was an informant of our state security and active spy for the Mossad. He had at least a private conversation with bin Laden in the summer of 2001. He was arrested in Morocco when he was setting up a Salafist terror group for which he was going to deliver the weapons. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. See: Georges Timmerman, ‘The secret of Belliraj’, Houtekiet, 2011.
2) Amazigh Times, July 9, 2018, Adra Ghedu, “Moroccan woman arrested at the Belgian airport on suspicion of espionage”, https://amazightimes.nl/marokkaanse-vrouw- arrested-on-belgian-airfield-on-disapproval-of -spionage /
3) Jewish News: 13 September 2018, ‘State Security deploys’ mistress ‘of Moshe Aryeh Friedman out of the country for espionage’, https://joodsactueel.be/2018/09/13/staatsveiligheid-zet-minnares-van-moshe- aryeh-friedman-the-land-for-spying / . September 13, 2018, ‘Intrusive questions about ties of CD & V candidate with foreign spy service’, https://joodsactueel.be/2018/09/13/indringende-vragen-over-banden-cdv-kandidate-with-outdoor-spionagedienst/
4) Pravda, 15 August 2018, ‘KaoutarFal: A Spy / Lobbyist on Western Sahara, Belguim, and the European Parliament!’, Http://www.pravdareport.com/world/africa/15-08-2018/141405 -kaoutar_fal-0 /
5) Judgment of the Council of State 132.072, LL against the State Security, 7 June 2004. The lady received no security pass from the State Security that she needed for legal reasons as a sworn interpreter on the court.
6) VRT, 8 May 2018, Alexander Verstraete, ‘From Barbara Dex to Nicole and Hugo: these 8 Belgian Song Festival icons celebrate an anniversary in 2018’, https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2018/04/27 / Eurovision Song Contest / belgian jubilee /
7) Europa.blog , 18 July 2018, Belgium: ‘A questionable Judgment of a Moroccan Woman-Activist’. The letter to Koen Geens also states that she was taken away by people who did not identify themselves. https://europa.blog/belgium-a-questionable-arrst-of-a-moroccan-woman-