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Price Waterhouse has become the first Big Six accountancy firm to forge links with a Belgian law firm since Arthur Andersen's failed attempt to secure a legal foothold in the country at the start of the decade.
Bogaert & Vandemeulebroeke, a 10-lawyer practice, has joined the accountancy giant's European law firm network. The firm's two partners Geert Bogaert and Marc Vandemeulebroeke split off from local firm De Backer & Associes at the end of last year after co-operation talks between De Backer and Price Waterhouse fell through.
However, although the new firm is located next door to Price Waterhouse in Brussels, the operation is being kept low-key.
Partner Geert Bogaert describes the relationship as a 'referral arrangement'. No mention of the Price Waterhouse link is made on the firm's stationery and there is no written agreement between the two firms setting out the terms of the relationship.
The original intention, according to Bogaert, was to establish a more formal co-operation with the accountancy firm. But the idea of closer ties 'has been suspended for the moment, partly because of the merger discussions between Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand'.
He hoped that this would change very soon, and that the relationship would be 'as close as possible' within the rules of the Belgian Bar authorities.
Local sources said that the Belgian Bar had seen the arrangements and did not object to them.
Whether it starts making noises if the two attempt to integrate further remains to be seen. Bogaert said that the issues are 'complex' and it is 'difficult to say' how the Bar will react.
The only other attempted link-up between an accountancy firm and a local firm between Arthur Andersen and Burlion Bolle some years ago drew fire from the Bar.
However, Bogaert is optimistic: 'Things are moving gradually in a more liberal way in Europe and this will happen in Belgium as well.'