Johan Sabbe stood trial on Monday in the same court in which he himself was once sworn in as public prosecutor for Ghent, facing charges of indecent assault against his former chauffeur.
Sabbe was suspended from his duties in July of 2020 and became the subject of a disciplinary and a judicial investigation following allegations of inappropriate behaviour made by a female driver employed by the office.
“He may not remember. But I had to suffer the sexual assault and I remember it as if it was yesterday,” the woman said in a statement in court, according to De Standaard.
Sabbe could face a year in prison if found guilty of sending the chauffeur sexual messages and groping her. He offers a different version of events and is seeking an acquittal.
“This dossier is harmful for the magistracy and the way people look at the magistracy,” said Filip Van Hende, counsel for Sabbe, at the start of his plea.
The prosecution outlined how Sabbe sent his younger, female private driver incessant sexual messages that were an evolution from friendship to obvious transgressive behaviour.
“There are numerous messages with clear sexual connotations and several suggestive photographs, one of which shows Mr Sabbe’s lower body,” the prosecution alleges.
“He was her boss and she depended on him. All those physical advances and pornographic messages made it very difficult for her to be dismissive.”
Apart from the unwanted communication, Sabbe is accused of indecent assault.
“Sabbe took a seat at the front of the official car during a ride back and asked to drive somewhere in the woods,” the prosecution alleges.
“The woman refused and he groped her breasts and crotch. The same evening he sent messages that read: ‘I’m afraid you think I’ve gone too far. You are right. I shouldn’t do that if we don’t both agree. But I don’t want to be sensible all the time. I want to make love to you.’”
The lawyers of both the chauffeur and Sabbe each spent hours pleading their cases.
According to lawyer Van Hende, Sabbe’s suspension as a magistrate has already been punishment enough, which is why he is asking for an acquittal.
“I am portrayed here as a woman who lies and cheats,” the woman said in what was her first chance to address the court. “But I never wanted it to come to that.”
“I wanted a solution, but I had to suffer the assault. He was in an inebriated state. Maybe he doesn’t remember it, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I went everywhere to get help, but I felt completely abandoned. Nobody wanted to help me. The last option was to file a complaint. I lost my job and have nothing left.”
Sabbe claims he only placed a hand on her knee, and in reference to nearly 500 pages of Whatsapp messages exchanged between them, he said he “made a wrong assessment.”
“I felt we were on the same page,” said Sabbe. “I fell in love with her and got no signal that it bothered her.”
Chairman Koen Defoort countered that excuse by saying, “With all due respect, you kept testing your limits for months on end. Are you aware of that, as a public prosecutor against a subordinate?”
Sabbe replied that he “hoped for a full relationship.”
“I acknowledge my mistake but doubt whether it is a criminal offence. She was not able to say stop it. Afterwards, I realised that I was not doing the right thing in terms of marital fidelity,” said Sabbe.