CSV-Frëndeskrees association

 First day of "Engel case”

The first hearing of the trial of Frank Engel took place on Tuesday 19 October at the criminal court of Luxembourg. (Photo: Paperjam)

The first hearing of the trial of Frank Engel took place on Tuesday 19 October at the criminal court of Luxembourg. (Photo: Paperjam)

The trial of the former president of the CSV, Frank Engel, charged with forgery, breach of trust and fraud, opened on Tuesday 19 October.

The first day’s hearing in the Frank Engel trial took place on Tuesday 19 October at the Luxembourg Criminal Court. The former president of the CSV was paid a total of €40,000 over seven months, from June to December 2020, as a project manager for the CSV-Frëndeskrees non-profit association. His mission was to ensure the external representation of the association, the recruitment of new members and the preparation of the transformation of the association into a foundation as well as find new premises to serve as the association’s headquarters. The contract was contested by prominent members of the CSV, who had filed a case with the Public Prosecutor's Office last March. Six other defendants from the CSV are also facing court this week.

When first questioned by judge Marc Thill, Engel reaffirmed that he had reimbursed the €40,000, "as was foreseen from the outset by a clause in the contract, which provided for the full reimbursement of the sums paid in the event of the failure of the mission entrusted to him.” Engel did not manage to find a suitable property for the association’s HQ.

Pressure' to withdraw from the contract

The public prosecutor's office accused Engel, former secretary general of the party Félix Eischen,  and treasurer of the Frëndeskrees asbl André Martins  of creating a “fictitious” job. But François Prum, one of the lawyers representing Engel, dismissed the notion. "How can you accuse someone of fraud when a contract was signed and the agreement was unanimously accepted by the six members of the board of directors?” Prum asked.  "Why shouldn't a member of an association have an employment contract?” Indeed, it is not illegal for a non-profit organisation to employ staff.

Alongside Engel, Eischen and Martins,  the judge will also be questioning CSV co-president Elisabeth Margue and the party’s joint general secretary Stéphanie Weydert, as well as former general treasurer of the party Georges Heirendt and CSV-Frëndeskrees member Georges Pierret. "The parliamentary fraction of the party, which was in deep disagreement with Frank Engel, put pressure on the members of the board of directors of the association to prosecite over the allegedly fictitious employment contract", Margue, like many of the accused a lawyer by profession, told the court.

Frank Engel's lawyer "very confident

"I find it grievous that so many jurists and lawyers are on trial today," said Prum. "I am very confident about the outcome of the trial, there is no fraud or illegality in this case." Indeed, it is the very legality of that contract that is the crux of the case. Signed by Eischen and Martins, the employment contract was only brought to the attention of Margue and  Weydert last January. "He always insisted on the confidentiality of his mission and prevented the organisation of a general assembly,"  Margue and  Weydert explained. A general meeting of the association finally took place on 8 March, during which the "scandal" broke.

"My mission was not questioned until those who wanted to get rid of me intervened. There was a war within the party," Engel said in his defence. The former CSV chairman, who has said he is considering starting a new political party, is also being questioned this week about the fact that €8,536.05 in social security contributions were reimbursed to him from party coffers. The facts date back to a period between January 2019 and May 2020 and have been confirmed in the report of the Court of Auditors on party financing.

The trial continues this Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.

This article was originally written in French for Paperjam and has been translated and edited by Delano