Fatal Charleroi arrest: top government officials knew of man's death in custody within days

Fatal Charleroi arrest: top government officials knew of man's death in custody within days

High-level Belgian officials became aware of the fatal and controversial 2018 arrest of a Slovak man in Charleroi in February only days after it happened, a foreign affairs spokesperson confirmed.

The Slovak Embassy contacted Belgian officials via an official letter dated 26 February 2018, asking for explanations over the circumstances surrounding the death of the 38-year-old Slovak national Jozef Chovanec in police custody at Charleroi Airport.

When the letter was sent, Chovanec was already brain dead in the hospital following a hard-handed police intervention in an airport cell in which one policewoman can be seen doing a Nazi salute in recently released footage of the arrest.

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Foreign Affairs spokesperson Karl Lagatie said on Monday that the federal public service had received the letter from the Slovak Embassy, confirming that the affair had reached the highest levels of government in Belgium as early as three days after Chovanec's death.

"Following the muscular arrest by your police officers, Mr Chovanec was transferred, gravely injured, to the Marie Curie hospital," the letter, obtained by De Morgen, read. "The Slovak Republic is closely following the evolution of this regrettable incident."

While Chovanec's death took place in February of 2018, the release of footage of the arrest last week sparked widespread outrage, dragging the affair back into the spotlight and leading to at two top-level resignations at the federal police.

In the footage, Chovanec can be seen acting erratically in his cell and banging his head on the door until he begins bleeding, after which at least six police officers intervene, tying him at the hands and knees.

While in the videos Chovanec does not show any physical resistance, several officers can be seen dragging him and pressing him down on the bed as one officer hops on top of him and kneels on his back for several minutes.

As the footage went viral last week, Chovanec's widow spoke out against the delays in the investigation launched into his death, saying they feared authorities were attempting to cover up the case.

"We are shocked that, suddenly, no one had heard about this before," Chovanec's widow's lawyer, Ann Van de Steen, told La Libre. "This is no small case between two countries regarding somebody's broken toe — no, a man died and the actions of the police have been put in question from the start."

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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