It was the other way around, yesterday. The news did not appear in press reports first, nor was it announced or confirmed by the judicial authorities.
It was Mayor Bart De Wever (nationalist) who made the first move. Without mentioning the facts, De Wever issued a press statement saying "an investigation is going on targeting 4 police officers of the local police force." De Wever labelled the allegations as "very serious".
"If these facts can be proved, this would undoubtedly be a dark episode in the history of our police force", De Wever said, adding that the necessary measures will be taken when needed at a later stage. The Mayor also anticipated on criticism, saying that "this proves that our police force is capable of unveiling shocking facts internally and investigating them thoroughly, without any taboos."
Serge Muyters, the head of the local Antwerp police force, spoke on a video message that was released on the police website. He said: "We are taking the matter very seriously. The investigation has not been finished yet."
"They held raids in small cafés and bars"
Press reports are talking about blackmail of people in a vulnerable position, i.e. illegal immigrants and refugees. They allegedly committed the facts while on duty, which is an aggravating circumstance. The 4 are believed to have bullied their victims and there are talks of physical aggression. None of this could be confirmed by the judicial authorities, who are not commenting on the ongoing investigation.
The police officers worked in the Antwerp districts of Noord and Borgerhout, where a lot of refugees and undocumented people are staying. They would systematically have focused on victims that couldn't launch a complaint.
According to an anonymous witness in Het Nieuwsblad, the 4 held "raids" in little cafés and bars, taking their victims to a desolate place where they were threatened and robbed. Anyone showing resistance, was assaulted, the witness added. The victims were next dumped in a different place. The police officers would have committed the facts wearing their uniform and while on duty.
Three police officers meanwhile remain behind bars, while one is released under conditions, the VRT learned from reliable sources. The four have also been suspended by Bart De Wever.