‘Haunted’: Ex-models speak out against French fashion boss

After keeping silent for years, more than a dozen women hope their harrowing testimonies will spur prosecutors to pursue a pillar of the French fashion industry, accused of abusing young models with widely known impunity over dozens of years.

'Haunted': Ex-models speak out against French fashion boss
Swedish former Elite model Ebba Karlsson (L) and ex-BBC journalist Lisa Brinkworth in Paris on September 3rd, 2021. JOEL SAGET / AFP

“It’s haunted me for 20 years,” Lisa Brinkworth, a former BBC journalist, told AFP of her encounter with Gerald Marie, the former Europe chief of the Elite modelling agency, and its fallout.

Brinkworth is one of several women who met with investigators from the French police’s child protection brigade last week, with others set to do so in the coming days.

The inquiry was opened in September 2020 after complaints lodged over alleged rapes and sexual abuse between 1980 and 1998, including of minors.

Although that would normally put them beyond France’s statutes of limitations for prosecution, the women hope their accounts will nonetheless lead to criminal charges, especially if they spur more recent victims to speak out.

“I just think now that the time is right. He was untouchable for too, too long,” said Brinkworth.

‘Kept on going’ 
At the time of the alleged offences, Elite Models had launched the careers of household names including Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Marie’s former wife, the supermodel Linda Evangelista.

Brinkworth encountered Marie in 1998, when she was posing as a model for a report on the US financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was facing multiple charges of sex trafficking of minors before his 2019 suicide.

She was also investigating Jean-Luc Brunel, a French modelling agent and associate of Epstein, who was charged with rape of minors over 15 as well as harassment last December.

“I was just astonished by the number of women who were making allegations against Gerald Marie,” she said.

During a dinner at a nightclub in Milan, she says, Marie repeated propositioned her and offered to pay for sex, before pinning her to a chair and assaulting her through her clothes.

“I was absolutely powerless to do anything, and I was saying ‘no, no, no’ and he just kept on going,” she recalled.

But even though Brinkworth managed to film much of the incident, she says she was prevented from coming forward by an agreement between the BBC and Elite in 2001 following a defamation suit.

‘I froze’
Ebba Karlsson, a former Elite model from Sweden who also spoke with investigators last week, said Marie quickly disabused her of any notions of a glamorous career as a face of fashion.

She recounted a meeting where Marie showed photos of the agency’s models, asking if she knew how they got to be famous while putting his hand on her leg.

“He said, ‘Well, to be able to be so famous, you have to give something from yourself’,” she said, and then put his hand up her dress to assault her.

“I felt like somebody chopped my head off. My power just disappeared. I had no power. I froze,” she said.

Sources close to the inquiry told AFP that at least five other former models will speak with investigators this week, while around a dozen others have made similar abuse claims but remain reluctant to formally file reports.

Marie is also facing a criminal complaint filed in New York last month by Carrie Sutton, a former Elite model, accusing him of serial sexual assault starting when she was 17.

Sutton, known as Carrie Otis during her modelling career, is to hold a press conference in Paris on Tuesday.

Marie has denied any wrongdoing but has not yet been questioned about the allegations, his lawyer Celine Bekerman told AFP.

“He is reserving any eventual statements for the competent authorities,” she said.

But Karlsson, Brinkworth and others hope the sheer number of women coming forward in the wake of the MeToo movement denouncing sexual abuse and harassment will prompt prosecutors to take action.

“We have lawyers and we are powerful and the more we are, the more power we have,” Karlsson said.

“If he is not convicted for this crime, at least we have been causing some sound, some noise, that can create more awareness about the world as such in the model industry.”

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French police bust cross-Channel people-smuggling ring

French police have busted a major people-smuggling ring that has been sending migrants to Britain in dinghies, with more than a dozen boats and 700 life jackets seized in a raid, French authorities said Thursday.

French police bust cross-Channel people-smuggling ring

The ring was run by Iraqi Kurdish migrants and had a logistics hub in Lille, a northern French city about 100 kilmetres (60 miles) from the northern Channel beaches around Calais that are used for crossings.

Three Iraqi men have been charged, along with three French suspects after their arrest on Monday.

Police discovered “a real factory supplying nautical equipment” in Lille, the head of French anti-migration agency Ocriest, Xavier Delrieu, told AFP.

In what was their biggest ever seizure of equipment, they found 13 inflatable boats, 14 outboard engines, 700 life jackets, 100 pumps and 700 litres of fuel, Delrieu said.

The group is suspected of having organised 80 Channel crossings over the summer, of which 50 succeeded, with the smugglers netting around €80,000 for each one.

The arrests came due to intelligence-sharing between authorities in Belgium, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, who are all trying to crack down on migrants crossing the Channel by boat.

The original tip-off came after a border guard control discovered a group of French youths carrying inflatables from Germany into the Netherlands.

More migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK from northern France so far this year than in the whole of 2021.

So far this year, more than 30,000 people have been detected crossing the Channel to the UK, fresh government figures showed Thursday. On Wednesday alone, the authorities detected another 667 people.

Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, has faced some criticism from other Conservatives and in right-wing media outlets for not pressing for more French action against the crossings when she met President Emmanuel Macron in New York on Tuesday.

Downing Street said the issue did not come up at their talks on the margins of the UN General Assembly, which instead focused on common ground including Ukraine and energy security.

The crossings are among a host of issues that have badly strained Franco-British relations in recent years.