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Anderlecht's fake document scandal expands with more officials investigated

Illustration shows the city hall of the Anderlecht municipality. (BELGA PHOTO THIERRY ROGE)
06:20 08/12/2021

The scandal revolving around the sale of false documents by officials at the Anderlecht town hall, which was revealed in October, has now spread, with news that at least four municipal employees are allegedly involved in the large-scale fraud, according to the Brussels public prosecutor's office. Questions are now being asked as to how the fraud could stay under the radar for so long.

Last week, the public prosecutor's office identified four suspects within the municipal administration, two of whom had already confessed to being involved in the trade in 19bis annexes, a document that allows EU nationals to obtain a residence card.

The two officials were charged with public bribery, forgery, and participation in a criminal organisation, and have been released under conditions. According to the public prosecutor's office, the trade in 19bis annexes has been going on for at least three years and the officials involved would have received €1,200 to €1,800 per forged document. The operation is suspected of producing at least 1,900 documents per year.

According to the public prosecutor's office, every person with a false 19bis annex – with estimates putting the number at around 5,700 people - could enjoy social rights, such as family reunification, unemployment benefit and social benefits among other advantages. "In itself, 19bis is a simple employer's certificate," said Filipe Van Huylenbroeck, a lawyer at the Flemish Agency for Integration. "But thanks to 19bis you can get a residence card and that way you do get rights."

EU citizens who wish to stay here for more than three months must meet a number of conditions to obtain a residence card. For example, they must be able to prove their employment. This is usually done on the basis of an employment contract, but it can also be done via the 19bis annex, a document that is only intended for EU and Swiss nationals. It is a simple piece of A4 paper on which the employer enters, among other things, the NSSO number of the employee.

Unless identity fraud was also committed, the false 19bis annexes were probably only sold to unemployed EU nationals, in order to obtain a residence card. "Normally, the Immigration Office decides on who gets the right of residence here, but because these are simple applications, the municipality can also decide on the residence card itself," added Van Huylenbroeck.

In addition, there are also suspicions of the officials dealing in false driving licences. The two newly identified municipal officials are suspected of being involved in this. It is thought they granted driving licences to people of foreign origin, without having a foreign driving licence. According to the public prosecutor's office, this operation concerns at least 100 driving licenses spread over a year. The two suspects in this case were placed under arrest.

How it is possible that at least four municipal officials were able to trade in forged documents for so long is still unclear at this time. No one from the municipal authorities is willing to speculate while Brussels minister of local government Bernard Clerfayt also would not comment. "The region has nothing to do with this,” said his spokesperson. “There is such a thing as municipal autonomy. Only when it comes to matters such as the budget does the region carry out checks."

So far, no one has decided to use the scandal for political gain, with no calls as yet from opposition parties in Anderlecht for the resignation of the mayor or any of the municipality’s councillors.

"It is too early to ask questions about the political responsibility in this affair," says MR party councillor and former mayor Gaëtan Van Goidsenhoven. Gilles Verstraeten of the New Flemish Alliance also thinks that this is a discussion to have at another time, especially as the judicial investigation is still ongoing. "But after that it certainly deserves a debate," he said. A hearing on the affair will take behind closed doors on 16 December.

"This case raises doubts about the recruitment policy of the municipality, about the extent to which there are proper controls within the administration," adds Verstraeten. "There needs to be a serious review of all services, because I suspect that such operations could still come to light elsewhere."

Written by Nick Amies