Financial scandal forces Belgium to pull the plug on 'disco ambassador'

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The Independent Online

Belgium's "electro" ambassador has been unplugged. Pierre-Dominique Schmidt, the country's emissary to France, who is known as the "electro" or "electric" ambassador because of his love of disco music, stands accused of spending public money on lavish private parties at his embassy next to the Arc de Triomphe.

Mr Schmidt, 47, who has been recalled to Brussels pending an investigation, denies all wrongdoing. He insists he is the "victim of a campaign of destabilisation", linked to a political crisis which threatens to tear Belgium apart.

According to the Dutch-language periodical, P-magazine, Mr Schmidt is suspected of holding private parties and discos at the embassy using public money. He is also accused of running the embassy budget into the red and falsely claiming that the Belgian government backed his request for an overdraft.

The Foreign Ministry has asked the public prosecutor to investigate. In the meantime, the ambassador has been recalled "in the best interests of the service" and given a temporary job in Brussels. Last night, Mr Schmidt – a former senior adviser to cabinet ministers from the French-speaking Socialist Party – rejected the allegations "in the most solemn possible manner". He denied misusing public funds or forging a letter claiming overdraft facilities, and said he would sue "persons unknown" for libel.

According to P-Magazine, Mr Schmidt justified the lavish disco parties held at the embassy on the grounds that they "increased awareness of Belgium in Paris". When he was appointed last year, the ambassador, known for his active social life, told an interviewer: "Night-time has the advantage of stimulating the imagination more than the daytime can ever guess at."

According to the Dutch-language press, a frequent guest at Mr Schmidt's embassy was Elio Di Rupo, the leader of the Socialist Party, which is embroiled in a financial scandal.

Mr Schmidt implied he was a victim of the tension between French and Dutch speaking MPs in Belgium. Their linguistically-fragmented parties have failed to agree on a coalition since the general election in May, raising fears – or in some cases hopes – that Belgium might split in two.