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Record number of defendants pay to avoid a conviction

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A record number of people charged with a crime in 2018 chose to pay a settlement with the prosecution to avoid a conviction, according to figures obtained by De Tijd.

In 2018, the latest figures show that 9,640 cases were closed when the person charged agreed to settle with the prosecution for a sum of money. In 2017 the figure was 8,470, itself a record at the time. The number of settlements is also growing as a percentage of all cases brought to a conclusion, and now accounts for 1.8% of the total.

For years it has been an option in major financial cases for an accused to pay a settlement to avoid prosecution; since 2011 the option has been extended to other cases. In 2018 there were 117 major cases, which together brought in settlements totalling over €114 million. Another seven settlements proposed by the prosecution were declined by the accused.

But the growing number of settlements is not a sign that more and more people are getting away with crime, according to the prosecutor-general for Ghent, Erwin Dernicourt, who is also president of the national college of prosecutors-general.
“On the contrary,” he said. “It shows that we are getting tougher. These are often cases that earlier would not have been prosecuted, but which we’re now able to pursue by opting for a settlement.”

He also denied that the use of settlements was creating a two-tier justice system, where the rich could buy off a conviction in a way that ordinary people cannot afford to do. The option is not open to just anyone with money, he said.

We are not dealing here with drugs criminals or organised gangs, but mainly with illegal tax constructions, domicile fraud [obtaining social housing under false pretences and renting it out to a third party] and covering up serious amounts of taxable income.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times