- Daily & Weekly newsletters
- Buy & download The Bulletin
- Comment on our articles
Second-highest ranking Belgian police officer penalised in Chovanec case
The Belgian interior and justice ministers have decided to punish André Desenfants, the second highest ranking officer in the federal police, in the ongoing investigation into the death of Slovak citizen, Jozef Chovanec, who died in February 2018 after a brutal police intervention in a cell at Charleroi airport.
According to reports in Het Laatste Nieuws and La Dernière Heure on Monday, the two ministers had initially proposed a suspension of several weeks for the director general of the administrative police, the fourth most severe sanction a police officer can be punished with. Desenfants challenged this sentence before the disciplinary council, calling the current general commissioner of the federal police, Marc De Mesmaeker, as a witness.
The punishment was therefore reduced to a reduction in Desenfants’ gross salary for two months, at a loss of more or less €1,500 gross, according to La Dernière Heure.
However, the mention of this sanction will remain on his file for five years and blocks any possibility of promotion.
Jozef Chovanec died on 27 February 2018 at the Marie Curie Hospital in Charleroi, where he was transferred after suffering a heart attack in the early hours of 24 February.
Images and video footage showed the Slovak citizen becoming delusional before being brutally subdued in an airport cell. He was held in a stress position by officers for several minutes, with his head wrapped in a blanket, before being injected with a painkiller. In the footage, which was leaked to the press, several officers are seen smiling and laughing, while a policewoman even makes a Nazi salute in response to Chovanec’s screams in German.
A first report on the incident and the handling of the case by the officers involved was released in December last year by the P Committee, the supervisory body of the Belgian police. The report pointed to a culture problem within the police stationed at the airport, the scene of Chovanec’s arrest and detention.
The police supervisory body identified a series of red flags which should have alerted members of the police hierarchy to possible dangers before the events that occurred in February 2018. It also noted that the now infamous images of the police intervention aimed at subduing the Slovak national as he entered a manic state had been seen by many members of the airport police without any of them deeming it necessary to inform the disciplinary authorities.
The report also focused on the flow of information within the police. Top levels of the police hierarchy were never made aware of the particular circumstances of the intervention and, above all, never saw the video of it. The release of the infamous images in August 2020 caused a major scandal and shook the federal police to its higher echelons.
The report noted that the details of the events which were passed to the chief inspectors of the airport police (LPA) and its director (the administrative police officer on duty on the night in question) were sufficient for them to be transmitted to a higher level, in this case the DAO (Administrative Police Operations Directorate).
Moreover, the filing of a complaint by Chovanec's wife and brother, as well as the repeated interventions of the ambassador of Slovakia and requests for information from the press service of the general police commissioner of the federal police, should have set alarm bells ringing.
The report identified a confusion of roles within the police, a lack of feedback and cohesion when passing on responsibilities, and an apprehension to fully investigate and consider the incident based solely on the desire to protect the officers involved.
The committee also looked at the transmission of information between the office of the then interior minister, Jan Jambon, and the police. It pointed to a tendency to bypass the police hierarchy altogether. Discussions apparently took place within the management structure but were not forwarded to the director general of the administrative police or the commissioner general, something that should have become standard practice following the Brussels terrorist attacks of 2016.