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Family of French perfumer Guerlain embroiled in bitter legal battle

The partner of Jean-Paul Guerlain accused the famous perfumer's son of waging a "harassment war" against her and of threatening her on several occasions.

Family of French perfumer Guerlain embroiled in bitter legal battle
The Guerlain boutique on the Champs-Elyees in Paris. Photo by ERIC PIERMONT / AFP

Stephane Guerlain, the only son of Jean-Paul Guerlain, was summoned to court in Versailles, outside Paris, by Christina Kragh Michelsen, his father’s companion. However, he was not present and was represented by his lawyer.

The hearing was the latest judicial episode in the battle between Kragh, a 64-year-old French-Danish woman, and Stephane Guerlain, son of the man who ran Guerlain – one of the world’s oldest perfume houses – for almost half a century.

Jean-Paul Guerlain, 85, one of the richest men in France, now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Kragh has been with him since 2005.

Kragh was acquitted last autumn by a court of “neglecting a person incapable of protecting himself”. The public prosecutor has appealed against this acquittal.

The woman’s lawyer said that Guerlain’s son is driven by his hatred for his client and wants to “break her down” by waging a “permanent harassment war”.

When Stephane Guerlain “arrives in the house, he follows me everywhere”, said Kragh. He takes unilateral decisions such as “turning off the heating” in their property in a Paris suburb, she added.

Kragh has no “financial interest” in staying with Guerlain senior, but is doing so “out of love”, said her lawyer Frederic Belot. She has “lost sleep, lost a lot of weight” and suffers from “psychological problems”, he added.

Stephane Guerlain’s defence team described their client as “an extremely tired man who has been trying for 10 years to protect his father’s interests”.

The court listened to a recording in which Stephane Guerlain, a lawyer, called Kragh a “bitch” and a “scumbag” and threatened, according to her, to “put her head in a haystack”.

Kragh is seeking €70,000 in damages.    

The public prosecutor’s office did not agree with the plaintiff, noting that several of the claims were unsubstantiated.

The court will deliver its decision on Friday.

French luxury giant LVMH took over the Guerlain brand in 1994. Jean-Paul Guerlain remained as master perfumer until he retired in 2002.

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EXPLAINED: What are your legal rights as a foreigner in France?

The French Constitution offers broad legal protection to anyone in France from the right to trial to the right to legal advice, but there are some scenarios specific to foreigners in France.

EXPLAINED: What are your legal rights as a foreigner in France?

What are my rights if I am arrested or imprisoned?

If you are arrested you have the same rights as a French citizen to legal advice, phone calls, bail and a full trial – full details HERE.

There are some extra things to be aware of however;

Once arrested you have the right to an interpreter during police interviews.

You have the right to call your Embassy, although the help the Embassy can offer you is much more limited than many people think.

If you are released while awaiting a court hearing you will usually have to hand over your passport and undertake not to leave the country. If you are not a French resident, the judge can assign you a residency address in France.

If you are found guilty and imprisoned in France you maintain several rights, such as the right to vote (if you have French citizenship). France’s interior ministry has a handout detailing these rights, HERE

Can I appeal against my sentence?

Yes, you have the right to appeal a court’s decision.

Keep in mind that this can be a lengthy process with very specific deadlines – and it can go either way, so you risk a sentence being increased.

If you are acquitted in court,  French law also allows for the prosecution to appeal against your acquittal.

I am the victim of a crime, what are my rights?

In France, the role of the state and the prosecutor is to protect the peace, this means that if someone commits a crime against you, it is up to the state to decide whether to move forward with criminal proceedings.

It’s not up to the victim to decide whether or not to press charges.

Conversely, if the state chooses not to go ahead with criminal proceedings, but you (the victim) want them to press charges, you have the right to appeal against their decision to drop the case.

Can I be expelled from France for committing a crime?

Yes, although this is generally reserved for people who have committed serious crimes such as violent crime, drug-trafficking or terror offences.

If you have been jailed for a serious crime in France you can be served with an ‘interdiction du territoire français‘ – a ban from French soil – on your release. These are reserved for the most serious offences and simply being incarcerated does not necessarily lead to expulsion.

If you are a full-time resident in France but not a French citizen, then being convicted of a crime can mean that your visa or residency card will not be renewed. This is again usually reserved for people who have committed very serious crimes, but in certain circumstances residency can be withdrawn for less serious offences such as driving offences or begging. 

READ ALSO What offences can lose you the right to live in France?

If you have French citizenship it’s virtually impossible for your to be expelled from France although in some rare cases – usually connected to terrorism – citizenship of dual nationals can be revoked.

What are the rules for minors?

Minors in the French legal system have some specific rights. The EU has laid out the specific rights of minors, which apply in France as well, and apply from the time of arrest.

  • Right to be be quickly informed of legal rights, and to be assisted by your parents (or other appropriate persons)
  • Right to be assisted by a lawyer
  • No prison sentence should be imposed on a minor if they have not been assisted by a lawyer during the court hearings. All measures should be exhausted to avoid a child being imprisoned.
  • Right to be detained separately from adults if sent to prison.
  • Children should not be required “to reimburse the costs of certain procedural measures, for example, for individual assessment, medical examination, or audio-visual recording of interviews.”
  • A child’s privacy should be respected and “questioning will be audio-visually recorded or recorded in another appropriate manner.”
  • Repeatedly questioning children should be avoided.
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