Secrets and Crimes

Four years after hed been convicted of murder in Belgium, Jean-FranCois Buslik was a pilot and a family man living quietly in North Palm Beach. Then justice came calling.

A few months before their trip to South Florida, the investigators had scoured Buslik's home and business in Belgium. They found guns without serial numbers, pictures of jewels, precision machines for jewelry, and computer equipment. In the basement of his house, they found shell casings and what looked like bullet holes in the walls. In the kitchen was a safe-deposit box containing a stamp collection, 13 passports, and Iranian and Israeli money. They contacted Graziella Davilla, the girlfriend in the picture, who said that, a few days before New Year's Eve in 1984, Buslik had pulled from his basement a plastic bag containing four Cartier watches and had told her to choose one. "I thought it strange that he would keep such valuables in the basement when I knew he had a safe in the kitchen," she said.

Also strange was the rash of large purchases that preceded Buslik's hasty departure from Belgium in 1987. The investigators discovered that he had paid cash for a small fixer-upper of a house near London and then sold the property, using the money to buy a 54-foot sailboat through an offshore shell company in the Channel Island of Guernsey. (That boat later wound up docked behind his house in North Palm Beach.) Michele Ergot, another girlfriend, told police she had turned down an invitation from Buslik to sail around the world with him. Years later in South Florida, Buslik would tell a former flight student of his desire to cruise the high seas. "He loved that boat," said the former student, who asked not to be identified. "He said as soon as his father died, he would sell everything and head to sea for two or three years." Buslik's father, who lived with his son in South Florida in the last years of his life, died in 1994. By that time, though, Buslik had taken on new responsibilities: Diane Somerville and her daughter.

Despite his informal 1988 not-guilty plea from afar, the evidence against Buslik was enough to convince prosecutors to charge him with murder, which in 1995, 13 years after the airport robbery, led a panel of judges to find him guilty and sentence him to death. Until recently the sentence -- he received the maximum penalty because of his absence -- brought with it no arrest warrant and no request for extradition. Robert Beijer and Madani Bouhouche, two former police officers implicated with Buslik in the crime, were in the country to face trial; they received lesser sentences of 14 and 20 years respectively. The death penalty has since been abolished in Belgium, and if he is successfully extradited in the coming months, Buslik will likely receive a reduced sentence after being retried on the same charges.

Although a considerable fortune was snatched at the Brussels airport in 1982, the robbery is not the reason that Buslik and his coconspirators received such public notoriety in Belgium. Their media status, at one time on the level of O.J. Simpson or Timothy McVeigh, resulted from their suspected connection to 28 unsolved murders that took place around Brussels in the mid-'80s.

Belgium, a sleepy, rain-drenched country best known outside its borders for its waffles, French fries, and monk-brewed beer, was once one of the most volatile countries in Western Europe. At the height of the Cold War, Brussels, the seat of NATO and of the European Community, was second only to Berlin as a chessboard of covert activity in Europe. The place was crawling with spooks of all persuasions -- KGB, CIA, Mossad -- and with arms dealers, drug traffickers, terrorist groups (of the extreme right and left), and organized crime figures. In the '80s and early '90s, the country exploded with violence, from attacks on NATO targets and Western diplomats to political assassinations and terrorist assaults on civilians. Between 1982 and 1985, a masked, shotgun-wielding band attacked suburban supermarkets around Brussels, leaving 28 people -- including women and children -- dead.

The attacks, initially attributed to a terrorist organization called the Fighting Communist Cells and later pinned on a gang dubbed the "crazy killers of Brabant" for the province where the incidents occurred, remain unsolved, though a slew of theories has emerged to explain them. The most popular theory tossed around in the press and in parliamentary inquiries postulates that the killings were part of a right-wing plot to destabilize the country, undermine Communism, and strengthen the police state. Many believe, because of the commando tactics used in the assaults, that the killers may be connected to Belgian police or security forces, which is where Buslik and his pals enter the picture. Although they have never been formally charged with any of those murders, they remain the only suspects ever incarcerated for suspicion of being connected to them. The investigation, now comprising more than 300,000 pages of documents, continues. Buslik and former police officers Beijer and Bouhouche remain active suspects. Investigators into those murders are looking to question Buslik and are therefore anxious for his return to Belgium.

Before retiring in scandal in 1983, Bouhouche, whose father was North African, was well known on the police force for his extreme-right, neo-Nazi sympathies and for his affiliation with the Belgian neo-Nazi organizations Westland Newpost (WNP) and the Youth Front. According to Martial Lekeu, a former right-wing police officer who fled to Orlando in the '80s (he died of cancer a few years ago), Bouhouche was the core of an underground law-enforcement organization known as G Group. Lekeu told Belgian magazine reporter Gilbert Dupont that the group, which investigators confirm existed, started planning a right-wing coup d'etat in 1975. The G Group manifesto, published in 1990, calls for an organized struggle against the "red peril." It concludes with this bit of hyperbole: "For all time men of the west have fought against the eastern hordes and they will continue to struggle against them as long as they put our values, customs, and traditions in danger." Along with political organizing, G Group members, according to Lekeu, were fond of thrusting Nazi salutes and goose-stepping while on the job. Bouhouche, in whose house investigators found pictures of Adolf Hitler, never mentioned G Group. He did, however, admit to being involved with the WNP, a group he claimed to have infiltrated in the course of undercover police work.

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