Former Director of Belgian Gaming Regulator Sentenced for Hacking, Spying on Boss
Peter Naessens, the former director general of Belgium’s gaming commission, avoided prison last week. That’s after he was convicted of hacking and spying on the commission’s president, Etienne Marique, The Brussels Times reports.
Naessens was handed a 12-month suspended sentence by a court in Brussels after admitting he ordered his IT director and co-defendant, Norbert Boyen, to hack into Marique’s computer to steal his emails.
The case has exposed vicious infighting and a toxic power struggle at the very top of the government agency charged with maintaining the integrity of the gaming industry.
The nastiness kicked off in 2019 when Marique filed a complaint with the public prosecutor alleging Naessens had stolen and sold old computer servers that belonged to the commission. This specific accusation was later dropped, but it triggered an investigation by Belgium’s integrity watchdog, CINT.
Trouble at the Top
CINT discovered corruption was rife at the heart of the Kansspelcommissie, to give the commission its Flemish name.
According to the watchdog, transgressions included the misuse of government funds, the misuse of internal information for self-enrichment, and accepting gifts from gambling companies. The investigation led to several suspensions, including those of Marique, Naessens and Boyen, while others hastily took early retirement.
The probe also found that Naessens and Boyen conspired to breach Marique’s mailbox, copying many of his emails onto a USB stick, because they believed the latter was plotting against them.
Draining the Swamp
Naessen’s lawyer, Anne Marie De Clerck, told the court that her client had been trying to clean up the commission, and as director, was battling interference from what she claimed was a “politically appointed committee.”
She noted that Marique had been president of the commission for 20 years, while a president was, in fact, only supposed to serve a maximum of two six-year tenures. Naessen’s ordered the hack because he believed Marique was leaking sensitive information to the media, she added.
But according to the judge, this did not excuse Naessens’ and Boyen’s behavior.
The facts are extremely serious,” the judge said, as translated by The Brussels Times. “Both of them abused their authority as senior civil servants and in doing so violated the ethics of their position.”
In addition to the suspended sentences, Naessens was fined €24,000 (US$28,000), one-third suspended, and Boyen €20,000 (US$23,000), half of it suspended.
War on Loot Boxes
As director, Naessens came down hard on social gaming that included gambling elements and loot boxes in video games.
While most gaming regulators around the world said such games were not their remit because they were not strictly gambling, Naessens was fighting an almost unilateral battle against titles like Game of War: Fire Age, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, and FIFA.
In 2018, the commission declared games that included paid-for, chance-based loot boxes violated Belgian gambling laws, warning publishers they faced fines or prison time if they failed to modify them.