October 20, 1995
Web posted at: 7:40 a.m. EDT (1140 GMT)
From Brussels Bureau Chief Patricia Kelly
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes is expected to announce his resignation Friday, following a vote by the Belgian House of Representatives to force the former economic affairs minister to defend himself against charges of corruption and fraud.
Belgian lawmakers voted 97-52 Thursday to send Claes before the country's highest court, where he will answer allegations that he took bribes from an Italian aircraft manufacturer in the late 1980s.
Claes spoke to the deputies behind closed doors Thursday, and the lawmakers voted by secret ballot against him.
Claes contends he's done nothing wrong. He claims the charges are politically motivated. "I've given my word of honor as a Belgian minister of state that I'm innocent," he said. (560K QuickTime movie)
At the heart of the scandal are government military contracts, one with the Italian manufacturer Agusta to buy helicopters and another with the French firm Dassault to modernize Belgium's fleet of F-16 fighter planes.
Claes hasn't been charged with anything, but the public prosecutor says there's enough suspicion surrounding him to have the former minister indicted by the country's supreme court of appeal.
The Belgian press already has made up its mind. Many journalists are of the opinion that Claes should resign, and they predict that, on Friday, he will.
"He's got to have his mind free to be able to lead NATO," said Guy Daloze, political editor of La Libre Belgique. "And he's no longer got that."
The leading French language daily Le Soir quotes an anonymous "friend" of the NATO secretary-general as saying Claes has a 1-in-100 chance of surviving Thursday's vote.
Of course, says Pierre Lefevre, foreign editor of La Libre Belgique, "it's possible that there isn't any real proof to back up the accusations against him."
NATO itself has not pressured Claes to resign. The Western alliance says the secretary-general will have to make that decision for himself.
Claes has served as NATO secretary-general for exactly one year. There's been nothing but praise from the alliance for his leadership. But if Thursday's vote in Parliament goes against him, NATO could soon be looking for a new leader.
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