Published: 27 Feb 2013 13:36 GMT+01:00 | Print version
Updated: 27 Feb 2013 13:36 GMT+01:00
The mayor of the famous French landmark Mont-Saint-Michel has been hit with a €30,000 fine for using his position of power to make sure bus services shuttling the 2.5 million annual visitors to the site left from outside his businesses.
On Wednesday Eric Vannier, the mayor of the iconic Mont St Michel and owner of the Mère Poulard group was convicted of illegally using his status as an elected official to best serve the interests of his businesses.
Prosecutors at his trial in November had called for Vannier to be handed a six-month suspended sentence as well as a fine.
But the judge decided only to hand Vannier the €30,000 penalty, two thirds of which has been suspended.
Vannier, 60, was found to have purposefully changed the route of shuttle buses to the famed rocky island and its Gothic-style Benedictine abbey so they would depart from an area where his Mère Poulard hotel and restaurant company are located.
The move, which took effect in April, forced tourists to walk 900 metres (984 yards) from the main parking lot to the departure point for the island, an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
"The departure point is right in the middle of two businesses run by Mr. Vannier," local prosecutor Renaud Gaudeul told the court, adding that the move "had a direct impact on his businesses".
Vannier denied any conflict of interest, telling the court: "I truly defended the public interest, as always."
"All the accusations against my client, who has fought for 30 years in the interest of the public and the rejuvenation of the Mont, is false," his lawyer Richard Valeanu had insisted.
The case came to court following a complaint filed by a political and business rival of Vannier, former Mont-Saint-Michel mayor Patrick Gaulois, who insisted it had nothing to do with "jealousy" and everything to do with his love of the Mont St Michel.
"I don't want Mont St Michel to become a theme park full of Mère Poulard businesses," he told Le Parisien last month.
It is not just Mr Gaulois' businesses that may have suffered as a result of the new shuttle bus service and parking system which was implemented to try and restore the authentic maritime environment of the Mont. It seems tourists, too, do not like the system with visitor numbers taking a tumble since it was introduced last April.
Tourists have complained about having to walk nearly one kilometre to catch a bus and as a result authorities have agreed to change the pick up point.
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