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Trial of 81 members of alleged criminal gang begins at Justitia site

Illustration shows a visit to 'Justitia', the new courtroom at the former Nato headquarters building, in Haren, Brussels, Thursday 03 December 2020. 'Justitia' will accommodate the biggest trials in Belgium. (BELGA PHOTO ERIC LALMAND)
06:01 20/04/2021

The trial of 81 defendants who are alleged to be members of a large criminal organisation, the so-called 'Modest clan', started in Brussels on Monday.

The gang specialised in fake car sales and is alleged to have committed more than 600 offences. According to the federal prosecutor's office, the defendants accumulated around €6.5 million through their operation.

The gang was dismantled in May 2019, in what was – at the time - Belgium’s largest police operation in 20 years. Some 1,200 officers from the federal and local police forces carried out 200 searches at 19 sites, mainly within the traveller community, in and around Brussels, the Charleroi region and in France. Police seized 90 caravans, 91 cars, 34 buildings, jewellery, 23 luxury watches and €1 million, as well as a range of firearms.

According to the federal prosecutor's office, the gang is accused of using a smartphone app or forged bank transfer receipts to convince the sellers of the cars that the transaction had gone through. It was only after a few days that the victims discovered that they had been cheated and that the money had never been deposited into their bank account. By then, the sellers were long gone and the car had been shipped abroad.

A spokesperson for the federal prosecutor's office said the 81 defendants on trial stand accused of, among other things, membership of a criminal organisation, fraud, extortion and money laundering. All the offences listed took place between 2014 and the time of the police raid in 2019.

The case was initiated in September 2020, and the trial which began on Monday at the Justitia site located in the old Nato headquarters in Evere, is expected to last three months with four hearings being held every week.

Written by Nick Amies