Jail for councillor who sold humanitarian visa for cash

A judge in Antwerp has sentenced the former Mechelen city councillor Melikan Kucam (Flemish nationalist) to eight years in prison.  The politician was convicted on charges of people trafficking, passive corruption and membership of a criminal gang.

In 2019 VRT News revealed that the Mechelen city councillor charged eastern Christians in order to get them on the list for humanitarian visa for Belgium. The case centred on Mr Kucam’s activities dating as far back as 2017 when he took action to rescue eastern Christians from war zones in Iraq and Syria.  He contacted the office of the then asylum secretary Theo Francken (Flemish nationalist), screened families and decided who would end up on the list and qualify for a visa. 246 people escaped IS terror in this way.

Prosecutors alleged that Mr Kucam charged considerable sums, sometimes several thousand euros, for his mediation. 95 people are believed to have handed over cash.  390,000 euros in cash were recovered from the councillor’s home.  He claimed the money was for ‘wedding presents’ and that he was keeping the money safe for other people.

The court accepted that Mr Kucam threatened people who did not pay up.  Threats continued after his arrest, though now his son was in the driving seat.

Many of the eastern Christians did not remain in Belgium, a key condition for granting the visa.  As a result Mr Kucam then charged extra when he was aware people wouldn’t stay in the country.

Mr Kucam has also been fined 696,000 euros and loses his political rights for ten years.  His son is sentenced to 4 years in jail, his wife to 40 months. The son acted as his father’s right-hand man, was involved in the practical follow-up of cases and was in close contact with Mr Francken’s office.

Mr Kucam will also have to pay the Belgian state compensation.  The politician intends to appeal against the sentence and if successful may be able to remain a member of his N-VA party.  Prosecutors requested he be detained on the spot out of fear he would flee the country, but the judge refused.

The judge made no comment on the role played by the office of Theo Francken, the former asylum and migration secretary.  The office relied on lists submitted by Mr Kucam given his standing in the Assyrian community.

The court ruled that several people in Mr Kucam’s confidence were aware of the existence of the system he was operating and actively participated. Seven people stood trial and were found partially guilty.

Theo Francken has welcomed Mr Kucam’s stiff sentence, but adds that neither he nor anybody from his office were convicted.  “People-traffickers must be dealt with severely.  You can’t justify this” says Mr Francken, who continues to support the policies he pursued as asylum secretary.

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