Brussels | A Belgian and a Franco-Ivorian arrested at the end of 2019 in Abidjan after a 23-year run to escape Belgian justice will be retried for murder before the Bruges assizes from November 20, AFP learned from the general prosecutor’s office on Friday. of Ghent.
Nicknamed “the evil couple” by the media, Hilde Van Acker, 57, and Jean-Claude Lacote, 54, are accused of having killed a British businessman in 1996 on the Belgian coast.
Sentenced in their absence, in 2011, to life imprisonment by the Bruges Assize Court, both wished to be retried after their arrest.
A time in pre-trial detention in the investigation, the couple had taken advantage of a release, at the end of 1996, to evade justice.
Their long run took them from Europe to Côte d’Ivoire via Brazil and South Africa, where the Belgian authorities had spotted them and tried in vain for 20 years to obtain their extradition, according to the accusation.
The Mafia-like murder of Briton Marcus Mitchell, shot twice in the head in May 1996 in the seaside resort of Le Coq (De Haan in Flemish), hit the headlines at the time.
The Belgian daily Le Soir wrote in 1996 that Mr. Lacote had alluded to espionage during his hearings, claiming to be “an informant of the French secret services, the British MI 5 and German customs”.
Drug trafficking, purchase of military equipment, Serbian or Libyan channels and sums equivalent to several hundred thousand euros had been mentioned in the Belgian press.
According to the Belga agency, investigators discovered that Mr. Mitchell had loaned, shortly before his death, 300,000 pounds sterling to the two suspects, a sum with which they were supposed to make “a lucrative business in Libya”.
The trial in Bruges is expected to last at least ten days, presumably until early December.
The hearing begins on Friday November 20 and it is planned to hear the 51 witnesses cited until Monday 30, before the phase of pleadings and the indictment.
Hilde Van Acker and Jean-Claude Lacote were arrested in November 2019 in Abidjan by the Ivorian gendarmerie. They were then on the list of the most wanted (“Most wanted”) of the international organization Europol.
The couple had been extradited to Belgium in February, then signaling to the public prosecutor their intention to appear again at the assizes.