Jan Jambon, minister-president of Flanders, has maintained his position that he was not informed of the death in custody of a Slovakian man at Charleroi Airport in 2018, when Jambon was minister for home affairs.
The claim contradicts an accusation made yesterday in parliament, when the current holder of the post, Pieter De Crem (CD&V) said he had been told by the Slovakian ambassador to Belgium that Jambon and the ambassador had discussed the matter.
Jozef Chovanec was rushed to hospital in February 2018 after he had been heavily subdued by a group of police officers who held him down and sat on him in a police cell at the airport. He died later in hospital.
Last week video footage of the incident emerged, in which can be seen how heavy-handed the police reaction was, not to mention one police officer clearly giving a Hitler salute and laughing.
De Crem was called before the joint home affairs and justice committee, although he was not the minister in charge of police at the time of the incident. But he described a conversation with Philippe Goffin (MR), foreign affairs minister, in which Goffin told him the Slovakian ambassador had come to see him in July 2018, and in the course of the conversation revealed that he had already been in contact with Jambon (N-VA).
A hearsay report, in other words, and one which Jambon continues to deny.
Last week his response was clear. Speaking on VTM news, he said, “I have been in contact with the current director-general of the police and with their predecessor about this. There has never, ever been the slightest sign of this matter reaching my level.”
Yesterday, following De Crem’s claim, Jambon’s spokesperson said the minister-president “maintains that he has no recollection of the drama, which surveillance cameras brought to everyone’s attention last week”.
Earlier this week it emerged that there is a letter, sent three days after Chovanec’s death, from the Slovakian ambassador to Goffin, which at least shows that the matter was known at the highest level of government. Unfortunately, the letter, together with other documents of interest, form part of the dossier being compiled by the Brussels prosecutor’s office, and as such are covered by the confidentiality of the investigation.
Jambon meanwhile is to appear before the committee on Tuesday, when members will be keen to find out why a latter to the foreign minister concerning police activity was not communicated to the home affairs minister, who is responsible for the police.
At least one committee member has made up their mind.
“As home affairs minister, Jambon could easily have started an internal investigation into the facts,” said Tim Vandeput (Open VLD).
“He didn’t. He failed to protect all of his forces against what a number of officers in Charleroi had done. As a general he failed to defend his troops. That’s a gross, gross error.”