A court in Antwerp has sentenced Melikan Kucam, former Mechelen city councillor, to eight years in prison for selling humanitarian visas for his own profit.
Kucam represented N-VA on the Mechelen city council when he was given the job of allocating humanitarian visas allowing people in need to come to Belgium. Instead he decided to use the visas for members of his own religious community of Assyrian Christians.
He also decided to sell the visas for his own benefit, asking between €2,150 to €7,500 for each name placed on the list for a visa. The procedure for applying for a humanitarian visa normally is free, aside from €350 administrative costs.
The trade began in 2018, when the conflict in Syria was at its height, and Kucam decided to use his position as a close contact in the office of federal minister for asylum and migration Theo Francken (N-VA) to use the system of humanitarian visas to help members of his own religious community in Syria – but at the same time to profit himself.
Kucam would offer places on the list of candidates for a visa to named persons for a price, which would be payable whether the visa was approved or not.
The system worked well, until the VRT investigative programme Pano revealed what was going on, and the justice system stepped in. He was charged with fraud and human trafficking.
Kucam pleaded innocent to the very end, but the court yesterday found him guilty on all counts, sentencing him to eight years in prison with a fine of €696,000 representing the money he swindled from visa applicants.
His mother and his son were also sentenced as accomplices in the visa fraud, receiving sentences of 40 months and four years respectively. Another sum of illegal profits of around half a million euros was declared forfeit, and could be used to compensate victims of the visa sale scheme.
Kucam intends to appeal the verdict and the sentence, his lawyer said.
The humanitarian visa system was at the time under the control of Theo Francken (N-VA), the controversial minister for asylum and migration. According to reports, Kucam had free rein in the office of Francken to compile lists of visa candidates which then went unquestioned.
Yesterday Francken declared the trial outcome as righteous.
“People traffickers must be dealt with harshly. This cannot be justified in any way,” he said in a written response. And he pointed out that neither he nor his office had been charged or convicted, and had “cooperated constructively in the judicial investigation from day one.”