Sven Mary: The 'scumbag's lawyer' acting for Salah Abdeslam

Sven Mary speaks to the media Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Mary has said he is driven by the "fight against impunity and the abuse of power"

Sven Mary has earned the nickname "avocat des crapules" ("scumbag's lawyer") from his work defending a series of notorious criminals in Belgium.

But now his profile is set to go international through his latest client - Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam.

Mr Mary was once a youth footballer at top Belgian side Anderlecht before suffering an injury and it would appear he has channelled the same competitive spirit needed in professional sport into his new vocation.

"If someone is described as public enemy number one, I want to fight that abuse of authority," Belgian paper Metro quoted him as saying.

And few would accuse him of shying away from a fight. He had to repeat the first year of his law degree three times but went on to be regarded as one of Belgium's best legal professionals.

Former clients include Fouad Belkacem, who led the Sharia4Belgium group and was convicted of sending jihadists to fight in Syria.

He has also defended Michel Lelievre, an accomplice of Belgian serial killer and paedophile Marc Dutroux.

Mr Mary suggested as far back as in January he would be prepared to represent Abdeslam, after he was contacted by someone close to him while still on the run, Le Soir reported.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Abdeslam is suspected of planning attacks on Brussels

The fugitive was finally captured in a dramatic raid in Brussels last week and is now fighting extradition to France.

Abdeslam does not deny his presence at the brutal Paris attacks last November. Indeed, Mr Mary told L'Express he would be "bothered" by having to defend such a line - and was not prepared to do so.

Instead Mr Mary has focused on procedure, accusing the Belgian foreign minister of political interference and the French authorities of legal overreach by seeking his client's extradition.

"We have to stop kneeling, to stop this guilt complex that seems to exist in Belgium over the attacks in France," the lawyer told La Derniere Heure newspaper.

He has also said he will sue French prosecutor Francois Molins after the official revealed that Abdeslam said he had abandoned plans to blow himself up during the attacks, something Mr Mary said was a violation of judicial confidentiality.

Despite this Mr Mary said his client was co-operating with the authorities and that there "is no single reason that he won't go to France".

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The Belgian will not be the first or last lawyer to be accused of lacking principles. But is "avocat des crapules" fair?

His actions do not fit a template. He has acted for the victim of a horrendous sulphuric acid attack and has said he will not represent members of the extreme right.

All defendants have the right to an advocate, however abhorrent their crimes may be - it is an essential part of a fair trial.

Not everyone believes he is just a man doing his job of course. Comments on social media have labelled him "inhuman" and "callous", and of cynically exploiting a tragedy for his own publicity.

Mr Mary says he is motivated by "the fight against impunity and the abuse of power".

"Do you remember the live press conferences by the federal prosecutors in the days, and even nights, after the attacks?" he told Le Soir.

"I was sickened by the way by the way they exploited fear just to gain more power."

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