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French mum, ex-partner get 20 years for 5-year-old’s murder

A French appeal court on Sunday sentenced a mother and her ex-partner to 20 years for the brutal murder of her five-year-old daughter whose disappearance in 2013 shocked the country.

French mum, ex-partner get 20 years for 5-year-old's murder
A 2016 file photo of Cecile Bourgeon. Photo: AFP

Cecile Bourgeon, 30, drew nationwide sympathy in May 2013 when she appealed for help in finding the blonde, blue-eyed five-year-old, saying she had disappeared from a public park.

But four months later, she and her then partner Berkane Makhlouf both admitted they had buried her in a forest near the central city of Clermont-Ferrand, saying she had died in an accident at home.

In 2016, a lower court had acquitted Bourgeon of murder but sentenced her to five years for lying about her daughter's fate while handing Makhlouf 20 years behind bars.

But following a two-week appeal hearing in Le Puy-en-Velay in central France before a nine-member all-woman jury, the sentence was overturned with Bourgeon handed a 20-year penalty for her daughter's death alongside Makhlouf, 36.

Prosecutor Raphael Gentile de Sanesi described the couple as a pair of “torturers”, who had collaborated in the “ongoing violence” suffered by the child during “the days and hours leading to her death”.

The couple's deceit and the brutal truth that one or both of them killed Fiona sparked a wave of local fury even though details of her death remain shrouded in mystery.

Bourgeon, a drug addict, initially said Fiona had been “accidentally punched” and then claimed that Makhlouf had beaten her to death in a drunken fury.

He in turn accused her of kicking the little girl in the stomach and the head, according to his lawyer.

But they both maintained that the violence was not the cause of Fiona's death, claiming it was due to some form of “domestic accident”. On finding her body in the morning, they said they panicked.

Her body was never found.

Despite the hearing, no new evidence emerged to shed light on the full facts about how Fiona died nor determine the exact responsibility of each adult in her death, although the court recognised the child was the victim of “mistreatment”.

The jurors stopped short of handing the pair the 30-year sentence the prosecutor had requested but did approve his demand to withdraw Bourgeon's parental authority over her two other children.

Bourgeon's lawyers said she would appeal the sentence.

The child's father, Nicolas Chafoulais, expressed satisfaction with the verdict.

“She got the sentence she deserves. It is relief for me and justice for Fiona,” he told AFP.

“But am I at peace? No,” he said, choking back the tears.

“It hasn't brought my daughter back.”

READ ALSO: Mother charged over death of 'missing' Fiona (from 2013)

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Ghosn trial may be delayed until next year: Japanese media

Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn's trial, which was expected to begin in September, will be delayed, local media said Saturday, hinting that it may not start this year.

Ghosn trial may be delayed until next year: Japanese media
Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn leaving a detention centre on Thursday. Photo: Behrouz Mehri / AFP
The 65-year-old tycoon, currently on bail, is preparing for his trial on four charges of financial misconduct ranging from concealing part of his salary from shareholders to syphoning off Nissan funds for his personal use.
   
The Tokyo District Court had proposed to start his trial in September during its pre-trial meetings with his defence lawyers and prosecutors, news reports said, quoting unnamed sources.
   
But the court told the lawyers and prosecutors on Friday that it had retracted the plan without proposing a new time frame, Kyodo News said, adding that the move could mean the trial will not start this year.
   
The court also decided not to separate the trial for Ghosn, his close aide Greg Kelly and Nissan — all indicted on the charge of violating the financial instruments law by underreporting Ghosn's compensation, according to Kyodo.
   
His lawyers have so far demanded he be tried separately from Nissan and have voiced fears he will not receive a fair trial.
   
The Sankei Shimbun also said prosecutors gave up filing an appeal to the Supreme Court against his bail, a move to erasing a chance of his return to jail unless he is arrested again on fresh charges. Immediate confirmation of the news reports was not available.
   
On Thursday, Ghosn exited his Tokyo detention centre after accepting bail of $4.5 million under strict conditions, including restrictions on seeing his wife.
   
His case has captivated Japan and the business community with its multiple twists and turns, as well as shone a spotlight on the Japanese justice system which critics say is overly harsh.
   
Ghosn denies all the charges, with a spokesperson for the executive saying on Monday he would “vigorously defend himself against these baseless accusations and fully expects to be vindicated”.
   
In a statement hours after his release, Ghosn said: “No person should ever be indefinitely held in solitary confinement for the purpose of being forced into making a confession.”
   
The dramatic case has thrown international attention onto the Japanese justice system, derided by critics as “hostage justice” as it allows prolonged detention and relies heavily on suspects' confessions.
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