At 66, this French-speaking Brussels resident who passed twenty-five years ago from the profession of lawyer to that of examining magistrate willingly lends itself to interviews, in jeans and a V-neck sweater, to claim to be “humanist”, “oriented towards others”, and talk about the novels he publishes.
Sometimes taxed with “anar”, this independent spirit admits to being a Freemason since the 1980s “for inner reflection and enrichment through encounters” that frequenting a lodge allows.
Without forgetting the essential principle of always “questioning everything”.
Michel Claise, investigating judge in Brussels: “We are in a corrupt country, it’s something dreadful”
As a judge attached to the Brussels Court of First Instance, Michel Claise specialized in the fight against financial crime, and has already imprisoned personalities from politics, sport or the economy.
“Claise, the judge who scares bankers”, headlined Le Vif in 2014, at the time of an investigation for tax evasion and money laundering targeting the HSBC bank.
“Tickle the Mighty”
To settle the lawsuits, this global financial giant had to pay the Belgian State in 2019 nearly 300 million euros, a record criminal transaction in Belgium.
“He likes to tickle the powerful, he has broad shoulders and is not afraid of anyone,” a court reporter who knows him told AFP.
A lawyer who has met Judge Claise in multiple cases is more gritty: “he is full of himself and sometimes has the arrest warrant too easy to crack the suspect or hang a known name on his hunting board” .
Michel Claise: “How to remain polite in the face of De Croo’s attitude? It’s unworthy”
But the person concerned has always defended himself from adopting expeditious methods to advance his investigations.
And in any case a pre-trial detention measure is controlled in Belgium by other judges, who must decide within five days whether to extend it or not.
“Not a Sheriff”
It is Wednesday that the fate of Greek MEP Eva Kaili and the three other suspects imprisoned on Sunday will be fixed in this resounding investigation into alleged payments of money by Qatar to influence European policy.
“I don’t feel like sheriff. I’m just doing my job, (…) in compliance with the law. I’m entrusted with cases that involve influential people who we think we’re not going to touch. But I do it because it’s my job. Nothing more”, declared Michel Claise in 2020 at Le Soir.
“I don’t feel like I have a fight against people or against wealth at all”, but “financial crime is eating us up”, he added.
Born in 1956, the magistrate claims a “mixed” Belgian origin, with roots on both sides of the linguistic border, in French-speaking Hainaut for the paternal ancestry and Flemish Brabant on the maternal side.
Abandoned by his father, he grew up with his baker grandparents, who raised him the hard way. “An education from another time but which can bear fruit”, according to him.
Without a television at home, he dove into books. And, from the age of 14, the teachers at the Institut Notre-Dame d’Anderlecht in Brussels also gave him a taste for writing.
Mr. Claise says today that he draws inspiration from his professional activity to write thrillers and historical novels (a dozen published in 15 years) which have won him prizes and contributed to his notoriety.
On the political side, this graduate of the Free University of Brussels claims not to be affiliated with any party. But he does not rule out, once retired, trying to get elected to a municipal council to “communicate his approach to culture”.