Cools case to reopen with killers in box
18 November 2003, LIEGE – The incident-plagued trial of eight men accused of organising the murder of former Belgian deputy prime minister Andre Cools is to resume Wednesday after a bizarre attempt to have the presiding judge sacked was thrown out by the Belgian Court of Appeal.
18 November 2003
LIEGE – The incident-plagued trial of eight men accused of organising the murder of former Belgian deputy prime minister Andre Cools is to resume Wednesday after a bizarre attempt to have the presiding judge sacked was thrown out by the Belgian Court of Appeal.
Trial proceedings were interrupted Monday just as the court prepared to hear key testimony after Benito Francesconi, a self-styled provocateur unconnected with the case, lodged a civil suit for the removal of judge Luc Lambrecht, who was forced to suspend the hearings.
Cools, a leading Socialist politician, was shot dead outside his girlfriend's house in a suburb of Liege in 1991. Two men sere convicted in 1998 for carrying out the killing while the investigation into the identity of their paymasters and the motive for the crime continued.
Francesconi is well known in Belgium for leading a one-man campaign of harassment against what he describes as the "manipulations" of the Belgian judiciary, successfully interrupting a number of high-profile court proceedings using legal loopholes.
His request Monday to have Lambrecht replaced automatically invalidated further proceedings in the Cools murder trial until the appeal court passed judgement on its validity.
Cools' girlfriend, Marie-Helene Joiret, angrily described Francesconi on Monday as being mentally disturbed. "I am furious", she told reporters outside the court. "An eccentric clown who's a psychiatric case turns up and blocks the wheels of the trial once more. This is a fantasy tale."
The lengthy judicial investigation preceeding the trial has exposed a series of corruption scandals in Belgium, causing the resignation of four of the country's ministers and that of Nato secretary-general Willy Claes.
The trial itself has already been dogged by protracted legal delays, the ill health of one of the defendants, the fugitive abscence of three others and diplomatic negotiations for the testimony of two Tunisians, sentenced in 1998 to 25-year jail terms for carrying out the killing.
The two hitmen, serving their sentences in Tunisia, were due to testify in Liege on Wednesday in what the prosecution hopes will provide key evidence.
The suspension of the trial threatened to delay the testimony, but following the swift appeal court ruling Tuesday it appeared likely the Tunisians would now be heard on Wednesday as planned.
The Tunisian authorities have sought detailed guarantees from Belgium that the convicts will be returned as soon as their court appearance, expected to last one day, is over.
Two of the the eight men accused of planning the murder are on the run, while another interrupted the trial earlier this month after turning up at the court unexpectedly from hiding in Italy.
[Copyright Expatica News 2003]
Subject: Belgian news