Melikan Kucam, the Mechelen city councillor accused of selling humanitarian visas for cash, sold off 200 visas for a fee of 10,000 euros each, according to reports from inside his party, Flemish nationalists N-VA. Kucam will appear in front of an investigating magistrate today, to decide whether or not his detention will be prolonged. He was arrested on Tuesday following complaints from within the Assyrian community of Iraqi and Syrian Christians, of which he is a member. The visas were intended for Syrian Christians to allow them to come to Belgium and escape persecution in their homeland.
At the same time, the issue will be raised in the home affairs committee of the parliament, where party colleague Theo Francken can expect to come in for some tough criticism. Francken was secretary of state for migration when the plan to grant humanitarian visas to Syrian Christians was introduced. He also brought in the system of using intermediaries to grant the visas, which lies at the root of Kucam’s alleged abuse.
Among Francken’s critics, former government partner MR, whose David Clernival accused the former secretary of state of “enormous thoughtlessness” in the management of the matter within his office. “What did Francken know and when did he know it?” Clernival asked.
If the case against Kucam proves to be founded, Groen’s Wouter De Vriendt said, “Francken is responsible politically”. Government ministers Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) and Kris Peeters (CD&V) have called for a thorough investigation of the case.
In the meantime, Francken has filed as a civil party in the case, which allows him access to the case file and representation at any later trial. Current migration minister Maggie De Block has done the same.
Kucam has not only been stripped of his function on Mechelen city council, but also his position as accountant to the social aid agency in Ganshoren in Brussels, and the chair of a social housing association. He is formally charged with human trafficking, criminal conspiracy, corruption and extortion.