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De Gaulle statue vandalised in northern France

A bust of France's wartime resistance leader and later president Charles de Gaulle has been vandalised in northern France, local officials said Monday, prompting outrage from right-wing politicians.

De Gaulle statue vandalised in northern France
A picture taken in 1959 shows French President-elect Charles de Gaulle, first President of the French Fifth Republic, arriving at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Photo: AFP

The bust of de Gaulle in the northern town of Hautmont near the Belgian border was splashed with bright orange paint and the back of its pedestal daubed with the slogan “slaver”.

The act comes as statues are being toppled and removed globally amid worldwide anti-racism protests in the wake of the death in US police custody of George Floyd.

President Emmanuel Macron said in an address to the nation on Sunday that France would not erase “a trace” of its history and vowed it would not remove statues of its historical figures.

De Gaulle is seen as a national hero in France for resisting the Nazi occupation while in exile before himself becoming head of state in 1958.

Slavery was abolished throughout France in 1848.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire condemned the damage in a post on Twitter.

“The vandalising of the bust of General de Gaulle at Hautmont is a negation of our national history and an insult to the dignity of the man who always defended the dignity of France and the French,” he wrote.

 

The local mayor Joel Wilmotte told AFP the statue had already been cleaned, denouncing the vandalism as “scandalous”.

The head of the regional council for northern France, the prominent right-wing politician and former minister Xavier Bertrand, said the act was particularly outrageous coming days ahead Thursday of the 80th anniversary of de Gaulle's 1940 call on the French to keep fighting.

“At a time when we must remember that General de Gaulle kept the Resistance flame alive, the vandalisation of this statue in Hautmont is scandalous,” he said, demanding that the perpetrators be punished.

Local MP Sebastien Chenu added: “The French, and even more its political leaders, must always remember that it is largely thanks to him that France could be liberated when everything seemed lost.”

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CRIME

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

A French court on Thursday found former justice minister Michel Mercier guilty of embezzlement in a fake jobs scheme he ran for the benefit of family members.

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

Mercier, 75, who served under former president Nicolas Sarkozy between 2010 and 2012, claimed tens of thousands of euros for his wife and daughter for parliamentary jobs  they never carried out.

The court handed him a suspended prison sentence of three years.

Mercier gave “personal gain precedence over the public good”, the court said in its verdict, calling Mercier’s actions “serious”.

As senator, Mercier claimed 50,000 euros ($54,000 at today’s rate) in salary for his wife Joelle between 2005 and 2009, and  €37,000 for his daughter Delphine between 2012 and 2014.

During that time, Delphine Mercier was living in London and did not set foot in the French Senate, but her father claimed she was acting as his “cultural advisor”.

Neither Mercier nor his daughter were able to provide any proof of actual work done.

Joelle Mercier, meanwhile, claimed during the trial that she had served as her husband’s representative at village fairs and funerals.

She was found guilty of conspiracy to embezzle public funds and of receiving stolen money and sentenced to a suspended prison term of 18 months and a €40,000 fine.

The court handed the daughter a 12-month suspended sentence and a fine of €10,000.

Prosecutors had asked for the ex-minister to serve one year behind bars, accusing him of “creating smoke screens” in his defence and seeking to mislead the court.

Mercier had based part of his defence on his rural roots, pitting his “common sense” against the “Parisians” of the national financial crimes unit PNF.

Several French politicians have been convicted for similar offences committed before France in 2017 banned National Assembly deputies and senators from employing family members.

The move came in reaction to a public outcry over a high-profile case involving former right-wing prime minister Francois Fillon, who was found guilty of providing a fake parliamentary assistant job to his wife that saw her paid hundreds of thousands of euros in public funds.

The “Penelopegate” scandal, revealed in a media report while he was the front-runner in the 2017 presidential race, torpedoed  his political career and cleared a path for then-relatively unknown Emmanuel Macron.

Last year, a court trimmed Fillon’s sentence to four years in prison with three suspended — down from five years with three suspended when he was first found guilty in 2020.

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