The Caliph of St Cyprien – Part two
A Sicily without the Mafia
Basil Howitt reports (2009)
The long suffering citizens of Saint-Cyprien (les Cyprienencs) must right now be crossing their fingers that their next mayor will not be banged into Perpignan’s reportedly squalid slammer in the Chemin de Mailloles. Such has been the fate of the town’s two most recent holders of the office.
Jacques Bouille, UMP mayor from 1989 to his detention in custody last December never, alas, came out of the prison alive. He hung himself by his dressing gown belt on 24 May while awaiting trial on eight heavy corruption and embezzlement charges.
Pierre Fontvieille: a Nine Day Wonder
The mayoral reign of Bouille’s successor and erstwhile deputy, Pierre Fontvieille (also UMP), lasted a mere 9 days before he too was locked up on 24th June. After 22 days, however, he was released on appeal, under strict judicial conditions, to await trial on a fistful of corruption charges. He described his period “inside” as une période traumatisante.
Les Trois Sages
Following his incarceration, Fontvieille immediately resigned as mayor, triggering off a mass resignation of all his supporters on the conseil municipal. The prefect then had no option but to disband the conseil and install Three Wise Men to run the town (The Seven Wise Men of Perpignan featured in a recent scandal) until after new elections to be held on 6th and 13th September. The actual number of Wise Men depends in each case on the size of the town.
Les Inculpations (The Charges)
The five charges levelled against Fontvieille are (to the best of my limited legal French): misappropriation and reduction of public assets; complicity in the misappropriation of public assets; influence peddling; illegal gains begotten through the abuse of public office; and aggravated money laundering. (The charges in French are : détournement et soustraction de biens publics, complicité de détournement de biens publics, trafic d’influence, prise illégale d’intérêt et blanchiment aggravé. )
Fontvieille swears he is “an honest man”, though he has yet to convince the prosecution of his probity. While confessing to having made “certain mistakes”, he has publicly denied all the charges, one by one, made against him. (French law differs markedly from English law in that England’s strict sub judice rules don’t apply over here.)
Most of all, Fontvieille denies having lined his own pockets at public expense. So convinced is he of his innocence that he is even (while still awaiting trial) trying to form his own liste for the forthcoming municipal elections; this, even though he is banned from living in the town, consulting with municipal employees and his former councillors, and entering the mairie for any electoral purpose.
François Calvet, secretary of the local UMP party branch, has described Fontvieille’s candidature as “déraisonnable” (unrealistic or even senseless) and a “provocation”.
Pending the trial outcome, Fontvieille has been suspended from the party, though he persists in his bid to be re-elected.
The UMP’s chosen new candidate is Fontvieille’s former first deputy, Claudette Guiraud.
Fontvieille’s sins of omission
As well as being Deputy Mayor in charge of Finance at Saint-Cyprien, Fontvieille was also Bouille’s personal banker as manager of the Caisse d’Epargne (Savings Bank) in Canet-en-Roussillon. The assistant public prosecutor Alain Guglielmi didn’t mince words about Fontvieille’s transgressions in both roles: “Before being elected on 2 June amidst rowdy protests, [Fontvieille] signed and validated in his capacity as deputy mayor an excessive number of false travelling and accommodation expenses for the benefit of Bouille’s “consorts” (cronies?) … Example? 28,000 euros worth of taxi fares in 2007, minuted in the approved accounts as “furnishings purchased”.
Questioning Fontvieille’s probity as a banker, Guglielmi asked why he remained silent in the face of Bouille’s huge cash deposits in his multiple accounts (15 altogether). 186.000 euros were paid in during 2006 and 270.000 euros in 2007, all of it in bundles of 500 € a time.
“All this gives a deplorable image of municipal management when respect for republican law is damaged by its elected representatives.”
Too many metaphors
“A deadly canker in the body politic”? Or how about “a fish rots from the head downwards”. One is spoiled for metaphors when describing this entire scandal.
The following mixed bag of bent councillors, officials and businessmen have been charged with a basketful of heinous offences and placed under strict judicial control (several of them after a spell in prison):
Rémi Bolte, director of the mayor’s office;
Marc Blasco, deputy mayor in charge of the town’s port;
Rolland Mantellassi, director of town planning; his secretary and companion Corinne Barbosa de Oliveira;
Jean-Louis Izard, deputy mayor in charge of town planning;
Francis Montor, general director of town hall services;
Christine Patural a property developer;
Eric Hernandez head of a firm of electrical contractors;
Bouille’s widow Marie-Antoinette;
Jérôme Ferrer, property developer …
The charges include – individually and/or severally – “abuse of public office for private gain, money laundering linked to corruption, active and passive corruption, ‘interference’ (presumably with due process?), favouritism, impeding the revelation of the truth, handling stolen goods …
The above-mentioned Marc Blasco, incidentally, tried to commit suicide last January by throwing himself off a bridge over the river Tech, but messed up the job and ended up in hospital with multiple fractures.
The election campaign begins on 24 August. Whoever becomes mayor, les Cyprienencs can only hope that she or he will be, if not squeaky clean, less of an acute embarrassment to them. One UMP aspirant with his liste at the ready, Jean Romeo, is a caterer who runs his business on the sea front. He reckons it will take the town six years to recover morally and economically.
Saint-Cyprien: a town “gangrenous with corruption” and “institutionalised racketeering”
A Sicily without the Mafia: in the extreme south of France, between the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees, the Roussillon seems to have become a land where, under the effect of a strange microclimate, numerous local celebrities shake off the rule of law.
“You have been a bad banker, a bad first deputy mayor and a bad mayor.”
We (the inhabitants of Saint-Cyprien) accuse you of having been blind and deaf, M. Fontvieille.