Europe's most wanted criminals on the run for more than two decades arrested in Ivory Coast

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By Rachael Kennedy
Jean-Claude Lacote (left) and Hilde van Acker (right) have been on the run for more than two decades
Jean-Claude Lacote (left) and Hilde van Acker (right) have been on the run for more than two decades   -  Copyright  Europol

Two of the EU's most wanted criminals have been arrested after more than two decades spent on the run.

Jean-Claude Lacote, now 53, and his partner Hilde van Acker, now 56, were arrested in the Ivory Coast's economic capital Abidjan earlier this week, the country's police said in a Facebook post.

They have been wanted by European authorities for 23 years over the murder of a British businessman in Belgium, and are listed on both Europol and Belgium's most wanted lists.

Ivory Coast gendarmerie
Van Acker and Lacote were arrested earlier this weekIvory Coast gendarmerie

The businessman, Marcus Mitchell, was killed in De Haan in May 1996 after being shot twice in the head at close range.

According to Belgian reports, the Brit had loaned Lacote some money and had recently discovered that he was being scammed.

Lacote, a French national, and Van Acker, a Belgian national, were arrested but later released due to a lack of evidence.

They subsequently fled to South Africa and built a life for several years before being forced to flee again.

Lacote had been detained for a separate case in South Africa and had so far survived failed extradition requests from Belgium, and other European nations.

He managed to escape from prison in 2008 in a jail break reportedly involving his partner, and little was known about their whereabouts after this until their arrest in Abidjan this week.

Belgium Federal Police
Belgium's federal police website reflected the couple's arrest on FridayBelgium Federal Police

The pair, who were sentenced in absentia in 2011 to life imprisonment for the murder of Marcus Mitchell, were also sentenced in separate cases in France and Germany in 2012.

Lacote, who was not at the 2012 hearing, was sentenced to five years in prison for fraud in an organised gang, death threats and participation in an association of criminals, according to the Ivory Coast police.

Meanwhile, Van Acker, who was present at the hearing, was given two years as an accomplice.

Following the arrests this week, it is not clear what the next steps for extradition will be. Euronews has reached out to Belgian authorities for comment.