They were arrested at the end of 2019 in Abidjan after a run of more than 20 years. The trial of a Belgian and a French of Ivorian origin, accused of the murder of a British businessman in Belgium in 1996, opened on Friday in Bruges.
Hilde Van Acker and Jean-Claude Lacote, who are now 57 and 54 years old, presented themselves at the beginning of the morning in the box of the Assize Court of the Flemish city, she wearing a long woolen waistcoat, he in dark suit over a white shirt, each of them masked, pandemic obliges.
Nicknamed at the time by the media the “diabolical couple”, they have always denied the murder, the motive of which has never really been clarified, a homicide with a mafia connotation possibly linked to arms or drug trafficking, d ‘after the press.
The trial should last ten days, the first being devoted to the reading of the indictment.
On May 28, 1996, the body of Marcus Mitchell, 44, killed by two bullets in the head, was found by children in a wooded area of the Belgian seaside resort of Le Coq (De Haan in Flemish).
This British national works in the avionics sector.
Investigators quickly discover that he was in regular contact shortly before his death with a woman named “Hilde” and a certain “John”, one of the many nicknames used by Mr. Lacote.
According to the prosecution, the relationship escalates when Mr Mitchell realizes he has been swindled after loaning Mr Lacote £ 240,000 in exchange for the promise of a ‘lucrative business’ at the ‘foreign.
Arrested on June 2, 1996 at Charleroi airport, the two suspects were quickly released under conditions the same year.
And if Ms. Van Acker was reincarcerated for three months in Belgium in 1999, according to the Belga agency, both then escaped Belgian justice for twenty years.
Mr Lacote’s trace was found in South Africa in 2007, when he was embroiled in a kidnapping case and briefly jailed, before escaping.
The couple, who say they are now separated, were finally arrested at the end of November 2019 in Abidjan by the Ivorian gendarmerie.
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Sentenced in their absence, in 2011 in Bruges, to life imprisonment, Ms. Van Acker and Mr. Lacote wished to be retried, as allowed by Belgian law.
Originally scheduled for November, the hearing had been postponed because of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
After the questioning of the accused, scheduled for Monday, the court must call around fifty witnesses.
Unlike the 2011 trial, the widow and three sons of Mr. Mitchell became civil parties but should not however come to testify, according to one of their lawyers, Mr. Thibaud Delva.