A clandestine drug laboratory has been discovered on a military base in Belgium where NATO nuclear weapons are stored. The synthetic drug Ecstasy was being mass produced on a large scale at the site.
According to the Belgian public prosecutor’s office of the province of Limburg on Tuesday, the laboratory was discovered at the Kleine Brogel base in the northern part of the country. It was then examined with the help of experts from the Federal Police of the Criminological Institute and the Civil Defense, it said.
The two arrested suspects have already been released, the prosecutor’s office said. They were not employed by the Belgian Ministry of Defense, it said. It is not known whether further investigations would be undertaken against the suspects. In addition to the Belgian Air Force, the military base is also used by the US Air Force.
Belgium notorious as drug manufacturing hotspot
According to investigators, the province of Limburg, which borders on the Netherlands, is frequently used by criminals for narcotics warehouses and drug laboratories.
Belgium in particular has long been known as a center for the production of drugs, especially ecstasy, in Europe. The two provinces of the same name in Belgium and the Netherlands have repeatedly been the focus of investigations while huge quantities of cocaine also enter the country via the port of Antwerp.
The production of this drug is a lucrative enterprise since it apparently costs less than 50 euro cents to manufacture one pill – while the street value in Belgium and the Netherlands is around 5 euros. In Australia, however, they can be sold for at least 20 euros.
Trafficking in this type of drug in Belgium often takes place via the Internet. In 2017, material for the production of one billion ecstasy pills was found in the Netherlands, on the border with Belgium. And already in 2013, a huge laboratory had been discovered on a secluded farm, which had the capacity to produce millions of ecstasy pills.
At the time, it was the largest such facility in Europe. However, it is less confidence-inspiring that synthetic drugs are being handled in, of all places, the heart of Western nuclear deterrence, in military bases and in the vicinity of weapons arsenals.
Belgian police downplay the link to NATO
The drug lab that was discovered last Wednesday was manufacturing MDMA, a raw material for ecstasy.
The local Kempenland police had raided the production area on June 22. The lab turned out to be on a military domain called Burkel, they say. The site is barely 95 acres, the size of a football field. It is a remote place along the street of the same name Burkel between the center of the municipality of Peer and Linde. Due to the many trees and dense vegetation, the site is well shielded and barely visible from the street.
Colonel Koen Vanheste said in response to questions that the NATO military airport of Kleine-Brogel was in no way directly involved in the drug investigation.
Burkel is said to be a domain of the Belgian Pipeline Organization (BPO) that is responsible for the supply of kerosene to airports. Colonel Boudry, responsible for BPO, commented on the military nature of the site: “It serves to close off any sections of the pipeline network in the event of a disaster. Our main mission is to supply fuel to NATO forces in Europe.” The Colonel was notified of the inquest. He emphasized that no BPO employees were involved.
The two suspects were released after being questioned by investigators, but the prosecutor’s office refused to say whether they had been charged. This has led to speculation that the suspects may have diplomatic immunity.
The subject is very rarely mentioned by the Belgian Defense or the executive, but this military domain in Kleine-Brogel is located in the municipality of Peer and is known in the country to host American nuclear weapons within the framework of the defense system of the NATO, with other bases in Europe.
A leaked NATO document from 2019 confirmed that American nuclear weapons were housed at Kleine Brogel. Although it had been presumed for decades that the airbase was being used as a base for American nuclear weapons, up until tehn no official source had ever confirmed that this was the case.
According to the document, a total of 150 nuclear bombs are being housed at military bases in several European countries and Turkey. A draft of the leaked document, entitled ‘A New Era for Nuclear Deterrence?’ was originally distributed to members of NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly at the time.
Notably, American soldiers provided the “necessary extra surveillance” at the base. The US Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa (USAFE-AFAFRICA), the Third Air Force, the 52nd Fighter Wing, the 52nd Munitions Maintenance Group and the 701st Munition Support Squadron are stationed there.