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Fugitive couple face Belgian retrial for 1996 murder

A couple arrested in Ivory Coast after 20 years on the run over the murder of a British businessman in Belgium are to face a retrial, prosecutors said Friday.

Jean-Claude Lacote and his wife Hilde Van Acker, both in their 50s, were sentenced to life in prison in their absence in 2011 for killing Marcus Mitchell, who was shot twice in the head in Belgium in 1996.

Because they were not present for the trial, under Belgian law they have the right to have the case heard again, and hearings will begin in the western city of Bruges on November 20, prosecutors told AFP.

The pair, listed on Europol’s most wanted list, fled Belgium in the aftermath of the murder, beginning an odyssey that reportedly took them through Europe, Africa and Brazil before they resurfaced 23 years later in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast’s commercial capital.

British media said that at one point the French-Ivorian Lacote fled to South Africa, where he worked on a reality-TV crime show.

Mitchell’s gangland-style murder in the upmarket Belgian seaside resort of De Haan caused a sensation at the time.

Lacote and Van Acker, who is Belgian, were arrested by Ivorian police in November 2019 and extradited to Belgium early this year.

During police interviews after the murder, Lacote claimed to be an informer for British, French and German intelligence, Le Soir newspaper reported in 1996.

Prosecutors expect the new trial to last around 10 days.