Political scandals, spy stories and defense

A year in review: political scandals, spy stories and defense

2021 in review

Prime Minister’s plagiarism allegations, Luxembourg housing squeeze and links to spyware companies grabbed political headlines in 2021

Prime Minister’s plagiarism allegations, Luxembourg housing squeeze and links to spyware companies grabbed political headlines in 2021

Luxembourg’s links to a spyware company, the Prime Minister’s plagiarism allegations and a US extradition request for one of the former directors of the Grand Duchy’s national intelligence agency have all made headlines. politics last year.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest stories.

Circle of friends

As political life was to a large extent dominated by the pandemic, the largest opposition party, the Christian Democrats of the CSV, stood out for denouncing their then president, Frank Engel, for prosecution. of the country for a supposedly fictitious job and problems around social security contributions. This led to police searches of the CSV headquarters. Investigators then widened the circle to include more party members, including some politically aligned with the party denouncing Engel, who resigned his post.

In a surprisingly swift court process, Engel and the other defendants were acquitted of – among other things – fraud and forgery charges, and the prosecution decided not to appeal. However, damage has been done to the party, traditionally the most dominant force in national politics, which is now reaching historic lows in the polls.

NSO and Pegasus

Luxembourg has been at the center of the developing story of Israeli spyware company NSO, which has been linked to surveillance abuses by authoritarian governments and democracies as the Grand Duchy is home to several entities linked to NSO.

In a live interview with the Luxembourg Times, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel appeared to admit to having used the software, although his ministry later said he was talking about spyware in general, and not spyware in particular. Earlier this year, Foreign Minister Asselborn said there were nine NSO-related entities in the Grand Duchy, after initially saying he was only aware of two. A previous Amnesty International report from June showed that the number of Luxembourgish entities could be even higher.

Pressure mounts on NSO as the US Department of Commerce puts the company on its dreaded “entity list” and more and more revelations emerge about the software used on Polish opposition politicians and officials from the US State Department. NSO is reportedly considering stopping its spyware. Apple is also suing the company over its zero hacking technology deployed to enter Apple products.

In addition to the spyware revelations, the Luxembourg prosecution also attempted to retrieve information from the secure messaging application company Signal about users as part of a criminal investigation, which led to a brutal rebuttal of the law. company.

The extradition of spies

The former Luxembourg director of operations of the national intelligence agency SREL, Frank Schneider, was arrested in France near the Luxembourg border in April 2020 and is currently facing extradition to the United States for a crypto scam of several billion. Luxembourg does not interfere in the bilateral extradition between France and its ally on the other side of the Atlantic. The FBI even traveled to Nancy to congratulate the French police on her successful arrest.

Schneider is cited as a co-conspirator in US court documents in the OneCoin scam, run by “cryptoqueen” Ignatova, who is on the run. She is said to have defrauded customers around the world for more than $ 4 billion (3.5 billion euros).

Schneider, who is also accused in a Luxembourg court case over how former Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker handled intelligence services, now faces a new hearing in court in Nancy on January 19 after being released under electronic surveillance without bail, with an extradition decision then awaited.

A Luxembourg hours The investigation showed that Schneider had screened clients for the Luxembourg-based European Investment Bank with his private company Sandstone. Email exchanges on Wikileaks also showed that Schneider had previously sought contact with an Italian spyware company which Luxembourg later admitted to be a client, and which also made headlines for abuse. of the government.

Russia Today in German

Luxembourg has received a request from RT’s parent company, formerly known as Russia Today, to broadcast its new German-language channel, bypassing German law on state-funded banned channels. Government officials met with their German counterparts, including intelligence officers, to discuss the matter, and Luxembourg ultimately said it would not grant the license.

Currently, RT in German operates with a Serbian license to broadcast in German-speaking countries, but already faces many technical and legal obstacles.

Bettel’s plagiarism

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel plagiarized much of his postgraduate research thesis, according to a Reporter.lu investigation, and his former university is currently investigating the allegations.

The journalistic investigation, published in late October, examined Bettel’s thesis in detail, after speaking to several independent researchers. Only two pages – the introductory and concluding sections – out of 56 contained no plagiarized passages and 20 pages of the thesis were taken directly from the European Parliament’s website, the article concludes.

“This job wasn’t great at the time … I didn’t cheat, I didn’t try to swindle the professor who supervised the job,” Bettel said at a press conference afterwards. the presentation.

His popularity plummeted after the news broke.

Earlier this year, Bettel’s former colleague in the Democratic Party, Monica Semedo, also made headlines after being sanctioned by the European Parliament for allegations of “psychological harassment” by her aides. She left the party but remained a member of the European Parliament.

Luxembourg steps up its defense efforts

Luxembourg is trying to be a better partner of NATO, as the country’s defense spending is among the lowest in the military alliance. Luxembourg is set to form a military battalion with Belgium which will see the two countries deploy ground troops in a joint unit, as part of the Grand Duchy’s plans to increase its defense spending for the military alliance NATO, the government announced in June 2021.

Luxembourg recently increased its military spending efforts in satellite communications, space and cybersecurity and also invested in NATO’s push for an air-to-air refueling capability in Europe.

In February, parliament voted in favor of laws to increase the country’s military spending and recruitment in a bid to meet NATO spending targets and be seen as a “reliable partner” within of the alliance.

Luxembourg is also expected to contribute € 7 million to a NATO program to protect satellites from harmful debris and spot hostile activity in space, an area where countries are constantly deploying more military means.

Space Fair in Dubai

Luxembourg presented its space credentials at the world’s largest space fair, the International Astronautical Congress in Dubai in October 2021.

Many Luxembourg space companies took part in the fair, which this journalist covered in the field, and concluded cooperation agreements with large space companies and space countries. There was also an announcement on Luxembourg’s positioning as a venture capital investor in space technologies around the world, and the country has reaffirmed itself as a player in the global race for space resources. Much of the technology presented by many countries and companies could be deployed for civilian and military purposes.

Vaccine deployment

The rollout of the vaccine in the country got off to a slow start on December 28, 2020, much like that of most of its peers in the EU, with the country only able to vaccinate a handful of adults. Luxembourg briefly considered going beyond joint EU procurement to get more vaccines, but then quickly gave up on the idea.

Deployment accelerated in spring and summer, but Luxembourg often lagged behind EU states that were relatively rich in vaccines per capita. Now, as winter has just started, supply is no longer an issue and the country is ramping up its booster doses, with new restrictions increasingly targeting the unvaccinated or those who have not. reminder received.

There is no doubt that the situation has improved considerably over the past year, with restaurants, bars, cinemas and other venues remaining open and without a curfew confining people to their homes.

The government is now considering introducing a general vaccination mandate, which is already in place for the country’s military.

Ongoing housing issues

One political and economic problem that simply will not go away is the exacerbation of the housing crisis in Luxembourg.

A staggering 82% of voters said they were “very worried” about access to affordable housing at the end of the year, in line with 81% who said so in the survey previous in June, as the country faces one of the worst housing. in Europe, according to the survey carried out by the polling firm TNS Ilres for St. John’s Wort and RTL.

Prime Minister Bettel pledged to take action against house prices in his annual address to the nation, saying he would put in place a registry to tax empty homes to counter speculation.

House prices increased by more than 17% at the end of 2020 compared to the same period the previous year and vacant apartments and land have contributed significantly to the surge in house prices in the country. Thousands of citizens have opted for cheaper accommodation in neighboring Germany, France or Belgium.

The value of land intended for construction increased by 83.3% cumulatively between 2010 and 2019, while house prices increased by 65.3% for existing units and 61.8% for houses under construction. during the same period.

According to several studies carried out by Luxembourg research institutes, the structure of the Luxembourg market is oligopolistic, with only a handful of owners and developers dominating and taking advantage of the situation.

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