Known as a royal rebel, Prince Laurent of Belgium is said to persistently embarrass his family with his high-life escapades. But his latest scandal was distinctly common.
On Wednesday, it emerged that Laurent, the younger brother of King Philippe, had repaid €16,000 (£12,300) to the Belgian state for claiming his ski holiday, supermarket bills and school fees for his three children as state expenses. The repayment came after the Belgian Court of Audit, the financial watchdog of the public institutions, released a critical report on the prince’s spending last year, and Prime Minister Charles Michel suggested he return the expenses.
It was latest in a long line of tales about the wayward Laurent, 52, who is seen as the black sheep of Belgian royalty for his outspokenness and run-ins with the law.
Last year, he lambasted the royal family and their entourage on Belgian television, saying they were like the Stasi secret police and had sabotaged his career for years. “My family has never supported me,” he complained, adding that he had been hard done by despite his €307,000 (£236,000) annual allowance.
Once third in line to the throne, Laurent is now in 11th place. Although he enjoyed a reputation as a playboy when he was younger, his marriage to Bath-born Claire Coombs in 2003 was expected to settle him down. That never happened. In 2011, he was forced to accept limits to his official activities after uproar over an unauthorised visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and an attempt to go into business with a son of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Laurent, who trained in the army and navy before earning his wings as a helicopter pilot, has long had a taste for expensive cars and motorbikes. However, he was recently stripped of his driver’s licence after being caught speeding at 20mph above the limit through the streets of Brussels in his Fiat Punto Abarth. He responded by declaring that there should be “a special licence for those driving a fast car”. A few years ago, his spending became so lavish that Princess Claire was asked to dip into her savings.
The prince has tried to build a career in environmental and animal protection, but with little success: although he heads the Prince Laurent Foundation, which focuses on the welfare of domestic and wild animals, and a foundation to promote sustainable development and clean technologies, both are struggling financially.