N-VA suspends councillor accused of selling humanitarian visa

The Flemish nationalist party N-VA has suspended Mechelen city councillor Melikan Kucam from all his posts.  The party says it's shocked that the councillor stands accused of asking payment in return for getting humanitarian visa issued to Christians from the Middle East.

Mechelen Mayor Bart Somers (Flemish liberal) isn't surprised.  "It's the case that in recent months we regularly received signals from the Chaldean-Assyrian community.  I always told people to take the matter to the police and I too informed the police."

Mr Kucam's party now intends to await the outcome of the investigation.  Mr Somers stresses people are innocent until proved guilty.  Mr Somers is eager to be reticent but adds he heard that “people had to pay to get a visa and the person involved could oblige."

Belgian justice minister Koen Geens (Christian democrat) notes that people trafficking is a priority and he hopes the legal authorities can now do their work.

Both deputy PM De Croo (liberal) and deputy PM Peeters (Christian democrat) are seeking a thorough investigation into any trade in humanitarian visa.

On Wednesday morning Belgium's caretaker government announced it would identify itself to the judicial authorities as an interested party as part of this investigation. Former asylum secretary Francken too is making the same move. Interested parties will gain access to the dossier of the judicial investigation.

Former asylum secretary Theo Francken (N-VA) says if the accusations are true, it's incredible:  "You carry out a humanitarian operation for many hundreds of people who are threatend with death by IS.  You do it as a form of charity. Setting up a humanitarian corridor involves risks, but your point of departure is that people are of good will.  The work of our contact was always correct.  It now needs to be established whether or not the contact received any money."

Melikan Kucan was one of the people trusted to advise Mr Francken's office with regard to issuing humanitarian visa.

The accusations were first aired on VRT's current affair flagship Pano.  The former secretary of state for equal opportunities Zuhal Demir, a Flemish nationalist politician, posted on Twitter: "If the story is true, I feel betrayed as a person and a politician."

Green politician Wouter De Vriendt says his party is pressing for clear procedures and criteria for issuing humanitarian visa, a demand that he claims has been ignored for years. Socialist MP Monica De Coninck points out that at the end of the day the asylum secretary is the person who is responsible for the issuing of such visa.  She repeatedly asked the former asylum secretary Theo Francken (N-VA) for transparency with regard to the procedure for issuing humanitarian visa and never got an answer.