Fatal arrest at Charleroi Airport: minister to tell his side of the story

Fatal arrest at Charleroi Airport: minister to tell his side of the story

Jan Jambon, the Flemish minister-president who was federal home affairs minister at the time of the death at Charleroi Airport in February 2018, will today tell his own side of the story from his home town in Brasschaat.

Jambon (N-VA) has been accused of being informed of the circumstances of the death of Chovanec, while his response has wavered between denial and ‘no recollection’.

Jozef Chovanec, a Slovakian national, was boarding a flight at Charleroi Airport when he had an altercation with an air steward and was ejected from the plane by the captain.

He then confronted airport police who, in the light of his agitated state, called a doctor to see if it was safe to detain him. The doctor approved.

Inside the holding cell at the airport, Chovanec became even more agitated and starting hitting his head against the wall until he bled.

At this point, the narrative is taken up by video images which emerged only last week, Made by a camera inside the cell, they show the police entering and wrestling Chovanec to the ground, holding him down firmly, with one officer clearly sitting on his back as he lay on the floor.

Chovanec then became so unwell he had to be moved to hospital, where he died two days later.

A judicial investigation was opened immediately into the circumstances of the case, and more than two years later has yet to conclude.

The release of the video has however brought the case back to the attention of the political authorities, and the joint justice and home affairs committee of the federal parliament this week held an emergency session in which members questioned Pieter De Crem (CD&V), the current home affairs minister, and Koen Geens (CD&V), currently justice minister.

De Crem was not minister at the time of the events; that post was held by Jambon, and the question then became, what did he know, and when did he know it?

Jambon will come before the committee on Tuesday, but he has chosen to take the initiative today to set his story straight.

Jambon has denied categorically that he was informed of the incident when he was minister. When De Crem told the committee that the Slovakian ambassador had spoken with Jambon about the case, Jambon responded that while his staff may have been contacted, the matter did not reach him.

Later, he said that he may have been informed, but he now has no memory of such.

Today’s presentation will take the form of a press conference, and unlike a committee hearing in parliament, Jambon will have control over the circumstances and the questions and answers.

Whether the intention is to clear the air or to put his own stamp on the story for the benefit of the Sunday political programmes – which tend to set the agenda for the week to come – the date with the committee remains fixed, and that is where questions have to be answered, like it or not.

Alan Hope

The Brussels Times

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