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Disciplinary proceedings opened against senior police officers in Chovanec case

Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden pictured at a police control on the PLF Passenger Location Form at the Aire de Hondelange parking of the E411 highway, near the Belgian-Luxembourg border, Saturday 02 January 2021. (BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK)
10:33 11/02/2021

Interior minister Annelies Verlinden has announced that disciplinary proceedings are being opened against three senior federal police officers involved in the Chovanec case. This decision follows a preliminary investigation by the Inspectorate General of Police.

Jozef Chovanec died on 27 February 2018 at the Marie Curie Hospital in Charleroi, where he was transferred having suffered a heart attack three days before. The Slovak citizen, who was delusional at the time of his arrest, was brutally subdued in a cell at Charleroi airport where he had tried to board a plane bringing him back to his country. Officers executed a ventral tackle on him which lasted several minutes. His head was also wrapped in a blanket before being injected with a painkiller. The officers were later revealed in a leaked security video to be smiling and laughing during the intervention, with one policewoman even giving a Nazi salute as Chovanec screamed in German.

The minister would not give details and specify who the officers were who are involved. Her statement simply read that the proceedings were aimed at "heavy disciplinary sanctions”. In two of the proceedings, the minister is the sole disciplinary authority. In the third, she will consult with the justice minister, Vincent Van Quickenborne. However, under the Police Disciplinary Status Act 1999, this joint jurisdiction of the two ministers is exercised in cooperation with the Commissioner General or, more likely, the Directors General of the Federal Police.

A judicial investigation is under way. Committee P, the oversight committee of the police forces, has also issued a critical report on the operation of the police at Charleroi Airport.

When the incident was made public in the summer of 2020, the revelations led to serious political upheavals around the then interior minister, Jan Jambon. It also prompted the second-in-command of the federal police, the director-general of the administrative police, André Desenfants, to step aside before returning to duty. The director of aviation policing, Danny Elst, was sanctioned by the Commissioner-General and assigned to an administrative function.

Written by Nick Amies