The Belgian State collected 114 million in one year thanks to criminal transactions14:11 03.01.2020
Much has been written about the criminal transactions law in the past nine years. Since 2011, suspects can terminate proceedings at any time for payment, even if an investigating judge has been appointed or the trial has already started. Their lawyers can negotiate “an extended amicable settlement” with the prosecutor. The list of Belgians and famous companies who escaped a criminal conviction through these transactions is long. It ranges from Tom Boonen, Herman Schueremans, Peter Goossens, the Santens family, Bernard Arnault to Patokh Chodiev, via Accent Jobs, PWC, Petercam and ABN Amro.
Are these transactions chain-negotiated with wealthy suspects to replenish state coffers? The college of attorneys general has prepared a note summarizing the statistics on these transactions to take stock of the situation. In 2018, there were 124 extended out-of-court settlements offered by prosecutors across the country. Most (117) were actually paid by the suspects, who thus escaped trial. 114.26 million euros landed in the state coffers.
The vast majority of transactions in Antwerp
Most transactions are offered in tax fraud cases where suspects must first compensate the taxman and only then can negotiate a criminal transaction with the king’s prosecutor. This is how out of the 114 million euros paid, more than 57 million have been paid to the tax authorities and nearly 8.5 million to prosecutors, in addition to the 47 million euros in patrimonial benefits derived from crimes.
There are important differences between different parts of the country. The vast majority of transactions (55 out of 117) were paid in the district of the Court of Appeal of Ghent (West Flanders and East Flanders), against only 17 in Antwerp (Provinces of Limburg and Antwerp) and 17 in Brussels (Flemish Brabant, Walloon Brabant and Brussels-Capital Region).
But the real indicators are of course the amounts paid in the context of the various files. Here, it’s clearly Antwerp that won the prize. In 2018, more than 105 million euros (out of a total of 114 million) were paid in the metropolis. In Ghent, the amount paid is 6.8 million euros, but in Brussels, the transactions would hardly exceed 1.45 million euros. Even if it is 2018 and last year, the Brussels public prosecutor’s office concluded the largest transaction in our history with the bank HSBC. The latter spent 295 million euros to end the proceedings for helping more than 3,000 Belgians hide billions of euros in dirty money.
And in Wallonia?
If we look at the amounts paid in 2018, we are immediately struck by the small number of transactions in Wallonia. In Mons (Province of Hainaut), there are only 12 transactions against 16 in Liege (Liege, Namur and Luxembourg), and if we examine the amounts, the total amounts to 225,000 euros paid by suspects.
Why? The attorneys general’s note provides no insight. But if we examine all the transactions concluded in 2018 in criminal files – transactions have already been possible since 1984 in small files – only 490 were paid in Mons and 639 in Liege out of a total of 9,640 transactions. While the total number of criminal cases is not very different from other constituencies, it seems to reveal very different approaches on both sides of the language border.
3 questions to KOEN GEENS, Minister of Justice (CD&V)
1. What conclusion do you draw from the note from the Attorneys General on the application of the criminal transactions law?
On March 28, 2018, we reinstated the law on expanded criminal transactions after a judgment of the Constitutional Court. The public prosecutor was thus able in 2018, in cases where it considered it appropriate and after verification of proportionality by the judge, conclude for 8.5 million euros of amicable transactions in repressive files relating in particular to tax and social fraud. The tax authorities have recovered 57 million euros in tax credits. The state also received 47 million euros in confiscated property benefits.
2. In your opinion, is this system effective?
In any case, it allows the Treasury to recover the sums due to it. And the author does not remain unpunished financially.
3. Some speak of “class justice” which allows wealthy suspects to escape prison. What do you think?
If, in complex cases, the suspect is ready to admit responsibility and repair the damage, the cases can be dealt with quickly and efficiently. It also helps to avoid impunity.