Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon will not be resigning from his post as a result of the controversy surrounding his reaction to video images showing the circumstances leading up to the death of Slovakian national Jozef Chovanec in February 2018.
Jambon was commenting during a hurriedly-arranged press conference in his home town of Brasschaat in Antwerp province on Sunday. The event was organised after federal home affairs minister told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that he had knowledge of a meeting between Jambon and the Slovakian ambassador in 2018, in contradiction to Jambon’s own claims that he had no knowledge of the matter.
Jambon – who was home affairs minister at the time of the incident – will appear before the same committee on justice and home affairs on Tuesday. Prior to that, however, he intended to go to the press with his own version of events.
But first, he took a moment to express his “deepest sympathies” for the friends and family of Chovanec, and his shock on seeing the video images.
The images are crucial to Jambon’s explanation, he said. Like everyone else, he was seeing them for the first time when they were revealed by Het Laatste Nieuws.
“When I first saw [the images] I was deeply shocked, and asked myself, do I remember anything about this?” he said. The answer was in the negative.
Then, when he was asked by a reporter for VTM news about the matter, he replied that he knew nothing about it. “What I had seen was totally new to me,” he said today.
The problem, he explained, was that in the heat of the moment, presented with such shocking images, he failed to make the connection between the video and the Chovanec case.
“If I had known of a case involving such flagrant police behaviour, I would certainly have remembered it,” he said. But the information he had access to in 2018, although grave enough in itself, offered no suggestion of actions such as became visible in the video.
As time went on, and given the surprise expressed at his denial, he put together a timeline of events together with his office staff past and present.
The incident at the airport took place on 23 February 2018 at around 19.00, when Chovanec was first ejected from his flight. He became agitated in the police cell at the airport and was subdued by police in what is clearly a heavy-handed fashion.
As a result he was transported to hospital, where he died on 27 February.
The day before, a request came in from the Slovakian embassy for a meeting, after the ambassador was approached by Chovanec’s wife. The staff of the home affairs cabinet contacted the police for information on the case, and received a report.
However, Jambon now stressed, that report gave no indication of what had actually taken place. And that, he said, is why he failed to make the connection between the Charleroi Airport case he knew about and what the world had gathered from the recently-released video.
When Chovanec died, a judicial investigation was opened, which then placed the whole matter sub judice, and from that point on Jambon had no more contact with the case.
The Slovakian ambassador made another approach to his office on 2 March 2018, Jambon explained, and was received by two staff. Jambon himself was out of the country.
The third approach came on 30 May, and this time he managed to speak briefly with the ambassador. But only one question was asked about the case, to which Jambon replied that the matter was being investigated by the prosecutor’s office and by the Comité P, which oversees police matters. And that was the end of Jambon’s involvement in the matter until now, he said.
The stir that has now been created by his most recent remarks is the result, he said, of his having spoken too soon and without checking the record. Had he been more cautious when questioned, none of the current controversy would have happened.
“Hand on my heart, I never had any intention then or now to cover up the truth,” he said. “Why would I? There was never any reason for me to do so.”
His staff had carried out their responsibilities fully and completely, he said. “I have got myself into trouble by speaking out of turn.”
In closing, he turned once more to the Chovanec family.
“To the family, I can only say that I hope the justice system can shed some light on this case as soon as possible.”
Asked by a reporter if his problems did not make his position as minister-president somewhat awkward, he said he had had consultations with colleagues from his own and from other parties.
“Nobody is asking for my resignation,” he said.