Belgium's royal family has made an unprecedented public denial of claims that King Albert II attended paedophile sex parties, which could link him to associates of the alleged child-murderer Marc Dutroux.
In place of its customary "no comment", the palace issued a stinging condemnation, accusing a new book of spreading "allegations made by a fantasist in search of sensation".
The Paedophile Dossier, co-written by Jean Nicholas, a maverick investigative journalist, claims that, in the 1980s and before he assumed the throne, Prince Albert attended paedophile parties. The book argues that Belgian investigators have failed to mount a formal case against Mr Dutroux, more than five years after his arrest, because they are afraid their inquiries may embroil leading public figures, including King Albert.
Mr Dutroux is accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering a string of young girls. While he has been tried and sentenced for a dramatic escape bid in 1998, the main case against him has yet to come to court.
The most sensitive part of the book is based on statements that first surfaced as part of a divorce case, in which one party claimed the other had attended orgies at which leading public figures were present.
A subsequent police investigation yielded nothing.
The Dutch-language newsmagazine Knack made its own inquiries into the claims several years ago but dismissed them. Its editor, Rik Van Cauwelaert, described Mr Nicholas's claims as "crackpot" yesterday. "I am completely astonished that his book was published."
Mr Nicholas, who is from Luxembourg, defended his work, arguing that, of a 400- page book only 40 were de-voted to King Albert, and that the fate of the royal family was not his concern.
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