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‘Drug money’ was Jewish donations: lawyer

The main Swiss suspect in what is believed to be a vast drug money laundering ring claims the large sums handed to Parisian clients came from Jewish community donations, his lawyer said in an interview with the Le Temps daily published Monday.

"The cash given to his Parisian clients was gathered from the French Jewish community, wanting to donate to different people and religious schools," said Josiane Stickel-Circurel, who represents a Swiss wealth manager, originally from Morocco, at the heart of the French-Swiss probe.

"He has never been aware of any cannabis trafficking," she told the paper.

The man's arrest was part of a police crackdown in France and Switzerland following an investigation that was launched in February into the smuggling of tonnes of cannabis from Morocco to the Paris region via Spain.

A court on Friday ordered the detention of the main Swiss suspect and his brother, a wealth manager with the HSBC Geneva bank, stressing the gravity of the charges and the risk they would flee.

Their arrests came in parallel with 17 arrests in France last week, with a deputy mayor of a Paris district, Florence Lamblin of the Green Party, among those charged in the case.

According to Swiss media reports, the two brothers are suspected of laundering cash through a Geneva-based finance company, with the possible unwitting participation of French tax evaders.

Lawyer Stickel-Circurel told Le Temps Monday that her client had knowingly helped tax evaders, "but he had no idea where the money came from."

A raid on the Geneva home of one of the brothers led to the discovery of €800,000 in cash, and 160 watches and jewels worth an estimated two million euros in a hidden safe, Le Temps previously reported.

A third person, a woman working for the main suspect, was also arrested along with the two brothers last Wednesday. She has been set free but must remain available for questioning.

The Swiss group Inter-Community Coordination Against Anti-Semitism and Defamation (CICAD) expressed harsh criticism last week of how several of the country's media described the suspects as "belonging to the Moroccan Jewish community."

The association said the reports could contribute to stigmatising the entire Jewish community and said it was considering legal action.

CICAD chief Johanne Gurfinkiel told AFP Monday however that his organisation had nothing against the media, quoting Stickel-Circurel's claim that the money under investigation had originated from Jewish donations.

"The media are doing their job when they report the lawyer's words," he said, pointing out that the previous articles did not have grounds to mention the suspects' religious affiliation.

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DRUGS

French minister calls for Eurovision winner to be disqualified if singer fails drug test

France's Europe minister on Monday called for "total transparency" over speculation that one of Italy's victorious Eurovision contestants used cocaine during the song contest, saying it should be grounds for disqualification if confirmed.

French minister calls for Eurovision winner to be disqualified if singer fails drug test
France's entry, Barbara Pravi, said she didn't care whether Måneskin had used drugs or not. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Damiano David, the outlandish vocalist for Italian rockers Måneskin, has agreed to take a drug test after video footage appeared to show him snorting something from a table backstage during Saturday’s contest.

“I think there needs to be no doubt here, and total transparency,” Europe Minister Clement Beaune, who attended the show in Rotterdam, told RMC radio. “If there is a problem, there are penalties… Provisions are made for sanctioning measures, including potential disqualification in case of problems.” 

French hopes had been riding high on singer Barbara Pravi, who was a bookmakers’ favourite to end France’s 44-year Eurovision drought with her
moody ballad “Voila.”

But she was edged out at the last minute by a surge in public votes for Måneskin, with a final tally of 524 to Pravi’s 499.

“I don’t want to be a sore loser,” Beaune said, but “in terms of image, we can’t let people think that such competitions can result in such behaviour.”

The president of France’s public broadcasting group, however, said Monday that France would not contest its second-place finish, no matter the speculation over David’s backstage antics.

“France has absolutely no intention to lodge an appeal,” France Televisions chief Delphine Ernotte told the Parisien newspaper. “The vote was quite clearly in Italy’s favour — it didn’t steal its
victory and that’s what matters,” she said.

Pravi herself said she was not interested in the speculation.

“What’s true is that they were chosen by both the public and the jury. Afterwards, if they use drugs or they put their underwear on backwards or whatever… it’s not my problem,” she told France 2 television on Sunday.

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