Lawyers representing several of the accused in the ongoing Footgate case have clashed with the prosecution over the use of a government witness – a so-called super-grass who was himself accused but who has agreed to give evidence against others in return for leniency. Footgate is the name being given to an investigation into corruption and match-fixing in the higher levels of Belgian football. Facing charges are a series of football agents who are alleged to have arranged for matches to produce a desired result by paying off players and even referees. Related charges include money laundering and criminal conspiracy.
At the centre of the current dispute is the Serbian Dejan Veljkovic (photo), who was himself facing charges, but who has agreed to provide material evidence against his confederates in return for a plea bargain. According to reports, he has been released from custody, and promised a deal including no prison time and no fine, only the confiscation of €5-€10 million in assets. He will not serve a day in prison of the five years suspended he has already received, nor will he pay a penny of the €80,000 fine, also suspended.
The deal has aroused protest from lawyers representing other accused men in the case. Veljkovic is being treated under a recent statute on “penitents” – informers who are themselves criminals, whom the law allows to be offered advantageous conditions of sentence in return for inside information.
According to Jean-Philippe Mayence, representing agent Mogi Bayat, the prosecution has misused the law on informers by allowing Veljkovic off virtually scot-free, liberated with only the threat of seizure of assets.
Meanwhile Sven Mary, who represents another agent, issued a statement: “The fact that one can base the major part of an investigation on declarations yet to be made, from a man who has admitted committing serious crimes and who has an interest in swaying the direction of the enquiry seems to me to be very dangerous.”
Veljkovic was interviewed for the first time on the meat of the matter this week, in a session lasting a whole day. The content of his revelations has not been made public.
According to Walter Van Steenbrugge, who represents Club Brugge coach Ivan Leko, the prosecution has itself pronounced sentence on Veljkovic, leaving it to the judge at an eventual trial no option but to rubber-stamp their decision.
The objections of the defence will likely figure large in any trial, which could be years away, in an attempt to have any evidence provided by the informer excluded. If those attempts fail, they are sure to be taken to a higher court.