Belgian politician in apparent suicide after rape accusation
A former Belgian socialist leader apparently committed suicide Thursday following revelations he would be tried for rape, reports said.
Divers found the body of Steve Stevaert, the former leader of the Flemish socialist party SPA, in a canal linking the cities of Antwerp and Liege, Belgian media said.
The 60-year-old politician’s jacket and bicycle had been found hours earlier on the canal’s banks near his home.
“We are all today very affected and distraught by the far too premature loss of Steve,” SPA said on its website that also listed a hotline for people who might be contemplating suicide.
The Flemish newspaper Het Belang Van Limburg reported Stevaert had left a farewell letter.
Born April 12 1954, Stevaert had opened a cafe in the northeastern Flemish-speaking city of Hasselt in the 1970s before launching his political career.
As mayor of Hasselt from 1995, he became famous in Flanders two years later when he decided to offer free public transport in his city.
He was minister of transport in Flanders from 1999 to 2003, then president of the SPA between 2003 and 2005, when it was in power, before he became governor of Limburg province in 2005.
He retired from political life in 2011.
On March 23, he was ordered to stand trial for rape and indecent assault, prosecutors in Brussels said Thursday, confirming a newspaper report.
The alleged crimes occurred in September 2010 in the capital Brussels but the victim only brought charges against him three years later, said prosecutors who had until now kept a lid of secrecy on the case.
Belga news agency added that they occurred after Flemish television recorded a debate on sexuality that Stevaert and the young woman attended.
During the investigation, Stevaert admitted having had a sexual relationship with the woman but added that she had consented, Belga said.