Wednesday, January 26

At the trial of November 13, the avoidance of Belgian investigators

“I don’t know”, “it wasn’t me”. For a week, the locked word and the elusive responses of Belgian investigators cited as witnesses at the trial of the November 13 attacks have provoked the exasperation of both civil parties and the defense.

This new sequence, after the striking testimonies of the victims and the examination of the personality of the accused, was eagerly awaited: many of the accused are from Belgium and a large part of the investigation into the jihadist cell was carried out elsewhere. Quiévrain.

Before it even started, this major step in the trial was the subject of a standoff. Will the Belgian anti-terrorist police officers be able to testify without revealing their identity and without coming to Paris?

The Paris Special Assize Court finally decided, after two closed hearings and a letter of recrimination from the Federal Prosecutor of Belgium, to grant anonymization to Belgian investigators.

It was in a tense atmosphere and in front of a box deserted by several defendants, including Salah Abdeslam, to protest against the physical absence of the police officers at the stand that the first of them testified, on November 25, under the number “446.906 .682 “.

He appears on the screens of the courtroom with his face masked but not blurred, seated at the end of a conference room table and surrounded by three people. “A lawyer, a magistrate, someone who manages the technique”, specifies the investigator, questioned on their quality.

Defense lawyers are offended by the presence of a magistrate and the place chosen for these hearings: the seat of the federal prosecutor’s office in Brussels, rather than the premises of the federal judicial police.

“Of course, it’s not easy to answer when you have Moscow’s eye in the office,” tackles a Belgian lawyer, Jonathan de Taye.

– “Not my mandate” –

On both sides of the courtroom, lawyers are annoyed by the evasive answers of the investigator, even his lack of response on the merits of the case.

To a question from a civil party lawyer, Gérard Chemla, on the “flaws” in the surveillance of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged operational chief of the attacks, the witness replied: “I have no information to communicate on this point “.

A defense lawyer, Raphaël Kempf, then wants to question him about the relations between his client, Yassine Atar and Abdelhamid Abaaoud. “It will be discussed later,” by another policeman, said the witness.

Isn’t it he who wrote the minutes in question, insists Mr. Kempf. “I will pass on your questions”, retorts the investigator, adding: “It is not my mandate”, but that of another police officer.

He then refuses to say more about the “internal organization” decided for these testimonies before the court.

These scenes are repeated with the other investigators over the following days. “You will see with my colleague”, they often cut short the questions of an increasingly disillusioned defense.

Tuesday, a certain embarrassment seems to be heard from Brussels. The witness “441.157.616” has the “mandate” to expose the course of Mohamed Abrini and in particular a mysterious trip to England.

He is quickly interrupted by Mohamed Abrini’s lawyer, Marie Violleau, who is surprised that he read without detaching from the notes drafted in advance, which is contrary to the principle of oral debates before a assize court.

When it comes to questions, she asks: “Mr. investigator, what investigative acts have you done in this procedure?”

“A lot of acts, telephony …”, begins to answer the policeman.

“But concerning Mr. Abrini? Did you make any?”, Continues Me Violleau.

“Compared to him, no,” agrees the investigator.

– “Lightness” –

On Wednesday, the police officer “447 761 902” stumbled over the specific questions of Ilyacine Maallaoui, one of Sofien Ayari’s lawyers. He doesn’t “remember,” referring to the thick file.

“To have investigators who say with such lightness + it’s not me, look in the file +, while my client incurs a heavy sentence (life imprisonment, editor’s note), I deplore it”, observes Me Maallaoui.

“It is a plea there, Maître”, means the president of the court, Jean-Louis Périès: “it is not the moment”.

The posture of the Belgian anti-terrorist police officers, whose hearings are scheduled until December 9, is “inaudible to the civil parties who are there to understand,” said Arthur Dénouveaux, president of the Life for Paris association, to AFP. “What also bothers me is that it gives balls to the defense,” he adds.

“It’s a phenomenal waste. We have the feeling of losing ten days of hearing and this sends us back the image of an investigation service which is not up to the event”, judge Me Gérard Chemla.

“This trial does not make sense if it is to pretend,” he blames.

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