This news story from last month concerns a man who lived in a poor region of Wallonia, and was blamed by a judge for being carjacked and having his home repeatedly invaded. His offense? He drove a nice car and lived in an upscale house while having poor people as neighbors.
Many thanks to our Flemish correspondent VH for translating both articles. First, from De Standaard:
“Whoever drives a Jaguar asks to be robbed”
The court ridicules violence in Charleroi
According to a court in the poor city of Charleroi [Wallonia, French part of Belgium] it is unwise to drive in a Jaguar and to live in a nice house. Rich people in an impoverished region of Charleroi must not exhibit their wealth too much. If they do, they should not be surprised when they become victims of crime.
This ruling by a judge in Charleroi (March 23) shocked the French-language commentators. “Justice ridicules violence in Charleroi.” Also the victim responded indignantly: “This verdict is a premium to criminals paid by the court of Charleroi and the Walloon Region.”
The lawyer of the victim will appeal against the ruling. “Should one then drive around Charleroi in a Trabant, walk around in a tracksuit, and live in a dilapidated house, to be safe and to be left alone?” the lawyer, Frédéric Clément de Cléty, foams.
In 1998 the victim, Laurent F., a banker and insurer, bought the rundown mansion of the Delhaize family in Ransart near Charleroi. He fixed the building up with a renovation grant of €6,172.55 from the Walloon Region.
In 2001 Laurent F. became the victim of a carjacking for the first time. The police found back his BMW, but in a home invasion armed men again went on the run with the expensive car.
In 2006, the renovated mansion in Ransart again became the target of a home invasion. “During it my wife and children were threatened with firearms,” recalls Laurent F. The criminals took the pajama-clad man with them in his Jaguar in the middle of the night, and at a business park put him out of the car.
For Laurent F. this was the last straw. He and his family decided to move to the Walloon Brabant region that he considers safer. Because he had not yet lived in the renovated building for ten years, the Walloon Region demanded that he repay €5,555.30 of the renovation grant. F. refused to pay, but the court ruled he was wrong.
In her verdict, Judge Geneviève Denisty states that she “does not want to minimize the psychological effects of a car- and home-jacking”. But it is not about a force majeure, as she determines in a remarkable passage.
“Whereas it might not be wise to attract attention to oneself by driving around in a Jaguar and living in a nice house, thus openly displaying one’s wealth or a certain wealth, in a economically impoverished and disadvantaged region such as Charleroi.”
Besides the repayment of €5,555 and the interest on it, Laurent F. also has to pay judicial costs of €1,071.97 euros. But that does not make him change his mind. A return to his beautiful mansion in Ransart is not in any case an option.
“A gross insult”
Jean-Jacques Viseur (CDH, Christian Democrat), the mayor of Charleroi, is furious at the judge. An interview.
What do you think of the judge’s ruling?
“I am unbelievably outraged. I’m not supposed to interfere with her verdict. With her statements on Charleroi I do. From a judge would you’d expect that he — in this case it is a she — relies on the rules of law and the facts. Not that she would consider giving misplaced lessons in morality. And not that she would play politics or incorporate her own absurd fantasies as a motivation for a sentence.”
What do you blame her for?
“She acts as if rich people who show their wealth in Charleroi beg to be attacked. With that statement she insults people who live here and in the entire city.
“Just because people live here who have it harder than elsewhere, you cannot just say that it is normal that those people raid wealthy people. She should know this, because she herself is from here.”
Is it true that in Charleroi there are more home invasions and carjackings than elsewhere?
“No, only last week I published the new crime figures. The number of home- and carjackings decreased dramatically. Much more than in other major cities. It is not the most luxurious cars that are carjacked most.
“There are big dealers of BMWs, Audis and Mercedes in this city. They do a wonderful business and they are no more carjacked than any other type of car.”
Are you going to file a complaint against the judge?
“I can’t. A judge may write in a ruling whatever he/she wants. Even though in this case it is purely subjective nonsense founded on nothing. I therefore will write a letter to the Court’s President to complain about what this judge is permitting herself. It is the second time I will have done that.
“Another judge gave someone who was convicted of robbery with violence a community-service sentence as room guard in the court buildings. I think that should not be possible. I myself am quite sure that 99 percent of the magistrates in the city would agree with me.”