A group of more than 50 members of the Roma community demonstrated outside the Justice Palace in Brussels yesterday against being deprived of a place to live following a massive police operation at various locations in Belgium on Tuesday. The police operation involved 1,200 police officers carrying out search warrants on a number of caravan parks where suspected members of an organised car theft gang were keeping stolen cars and other proceeds of their crimes. Those included caravans, some of which were seized, leaving families with no place to live.
“They took the caravans from people who have done nothing wrong,” one demonstrator told the RTBF. “We’re the ones who have to pay for the wrongs of others, and it’s not fair.”
Some of those gathered said their bank cards had been blocked, leaving them with no money to feed their children. Police had arrived at the caravans parks and started towing away vehicles without any explanation, another said. They also seized material suspected of being the proceeds of the crimes – more than 500 vehicles stolen by fraud, for a value of at least 6.5 million euros – including watches, jewellery and other valuables. “There were children, elderly people, sick people. They asked no questions, just saw these were travelling folk and seized everything, without any distinction.”
Meanwhile more information has come out about the operation carried out across the country on Tuesday. Searches were carried out in Anderlecht, Sint-Pieters-Woluwe, Asse, Vilvoorde, Meise, Puurs, Roosdaal and Charleroi. Homes and warehouses were searched in Evere, and warrants served on banks in Jemappes, Diegem, Jette and Forest for the seizure of the contents of safe deposit boxes.
In all, more than one million euros in cash was seized, 91 cars, 90 caravans and 34 properties including homes and apartments. 54 people were detained during the operation, and 24 remain in custody facing charges of fraud and membership of a criminal organisation, a spokesperson for the Brussels prosecutor’s office said. “Most are of French or Belgian nationality. The youth and family sections of the various local prosecutor’s offices have been alerted for possible problems relating to the housing of families and/or minors,” the spokesperson said.