Judge: crime victim 'invited attack by flaunting wealth'
A Belgian judge has sparked outrage after telling a victim of violent crime that it was his fault for flaunting his wealth in a poor area.
By Bruno Waterfield in Brussels
Published: 5:24PM GMT 23 Mar 2010
The crime victim, a businessman named only as Laurent, had been living in a suburb of Charleroi, in Belgium's depressed French-speaking southern region of Wallonia.
He moved north after a series of violent attacks and robberies on his family but was taken to a local court because he had not paid back a grant to renovate his house in 1998.
In 2001, the victim was attacked and his BMW car was stolen. Shortly after it was recovered, armed men stormed his home and stole it a second time.
In 2006, his wife and children were threatened by armed raiders, who stormed his home at night and dragged him away in his pyjamas while his horrified family looked on.
He was later freed and dumped on a industrial estate as the thieves made off with another one of his cars, a Jaguar.
Geneviève Denisty, a Charleroi civil judge, told the businessman that he must pay back over £5,000 in renovation grants because he had behaved "unreasonably" in leaving the region.
"It is perhaps not sensible to draw attention to oneself by driving a Jaguar and living in a big house, making an ostentatious display of one's wealth in a poor and damaged region like Charleroi," said the judge.
The businessman's lawyer accused the civil court of supporting "hooligans".
"In Charleroi, you must drive in a Trabant, wear a tracksuit and live in a slum to be safe from criminals and above reproach from judges," said Clément de Clety.
Many Flemish newspapers, from Belgium's prosperous Dutch speaking north, have reported the case as evidence the francophone Walloon south has become a "mafia" state.
Charleroi, in the heart of Wallonia, is said by most Belgians - including its inhabitants, known as Carolos - to be the most depressing place in Europe.
The city has become notorious as the home of the paedophile serial killer, Marc Dutroux. Another Carolo, Muriel Degauque, became the world's first white, female suicide Islamist bomber when she blew herself up in Baghdad in 2005.
Its Left-wing council has become a byword for corruption in Belgium, losing two Socialist mayors to various scandals in the last two years.