Belgian star football commentator charged with armed robbery 

Belgian police have charged one of the country’s leading football TV presenters with armed robbery after a major police probe into burglaries and drug dealing.

Stephane Pauwels hosts French-speaking Belgian coverage of the Champions League, as well as a show on the country’s leading private broadcaster RTL-TVI called “Storms of Life”.

He is suspected of “armed robbery with a firearm, at night, as part of a gang”, the federal prosecutor’s office said.

Mr Pauwels, who has also hosted football shows on French television, was arrested in connection to a  “home invasion” in the affluent town of Lasne, which is to the south of Brussels. Mr Pauwels, 50, was arrested in Mons, in the French-speaking region of Wallonia, on Tuesday. On Wednesday he was charged by a judge and granted conditional bail. The 2017 attack involved three men armed with a pistol, screwdriver and knife.

Belgium’s Le Soir reported that the victim of the robbery was in a relationship with an ex-girlfriend of Mr Pauwels.

RTL Belgium, the broadcaster’s parent company, announced that the host was suspended with immediate effect. “The management of RTL Belgium strongly hopes that clarity can be brought as quickly as possible to this affair,” it said.

The arrest was part of a probe into a string of robberies believed to be linked to organised crime that has led to 12 arrests. Belgian media reported that Mr Pauwels was arrested after a map of a London home was found at the house of a Belgian professional boxer called Farid Hakimi, who was jailed in November 2017.

The map connected Hakimi to another man, suspected of acting as a middle man between Hakimi and Mr Pauwels.  “Explicit” texts regarding the case from Mr Pauwels were reportedly found on the middle man’s phone. 

Mr Pauwels’ lawyers released a statement on Thursday, which branded the charge not even “a hypothesis” of an investigation and said the TV host would prove his innocence.

He had a string of roles at Belgian and French football clubs before becoming a TV star. He is credited with discovering Demba Ba, the Senegalese former Chelsea striker best known for scoring the goal that effectively ended Liverpool’s title challenge in 2014.

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