A homeless Belgian couple found €300,000 (around $350,000) in an abandoned building, generously shared the money with friends and people who had helped them in the past, and now they’re on trial for money laundering, The Guardian reports.
The pair, whose names have not been fully disclosed to the public – they’re named only as Joey, 32, and Kimberley, 33 – found the money in an old Singer sewing machine while squatting in an abandoned building. Local police discovered that the couple had found the money after the property of a friend with whom Joey and Kimberly were staying was searched during a drug raid. Joey was found to have €50,000 ($57,000) in cash on him.
After learning about the cash, the prosecutor’s office in the Belgian city of Ghent brought up money laundering charges against Joey and Kimberly. Apart from the couple, the nine friends who received the money are also being prosecuted.
“They shared the money as well-wishers. But of course you cannot hand out money that is not yours. And the people who took the money should have known that Joey and Kimberley could not have come by such sums of money in a normal way,” the prosecutor said.
The pair’s lawyers told the court that their clients had planned on buying a house with the money, adding that the investigation itself is void.
The prosecutor’s office in the Belgian city of Ghent is seeking 18-month suspended prison sentences and fines of €6,000 ($6,900) for Joey and Kimberly. The judge is expected to give his decision in two weeks.
In Belgium’s capital, Brussels, non-governmental organizations launched a project meant to help the city’s homeless population last year, BBC reported. Most shelters in the Belgian capital are occupied, especially during the winter, and since tents are forbidden in Belgium, non-governmental organizations have started giving out portable, cardboard tents to the homeless.
Xavier Van der Stappen, president of an NGO involved with the project, said that that the fact that “2,600 people live on the streets in Brussels, in one of the most comfortable countries in the world is hard to accept.”
As Deutsche Welle reported in March this year, Europe is facing a growing homeless problem due to an increase in housing costs. Every country in Europe, except Finland, has seen an increase in homeless population. According to DW, England has seen the highest increase in homelessness, then Ireland, and then Belgium, which has seen an increase of staggering 96 percent from 2008 to 2016.
Across Europe, homeless people die 30 years sooner than the rest of the population and live on the streets for 10.3 years on average, DW noted.