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French press review 7 March 2018


Did the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi launch its anti-dengue vaccine in Asia too quickly and against expert advice? Why is Russian President Vladimir Putin boasting about his bombs? Who will be the next leader of the French Socialist Party? And how much are the rich people on the Forbes list really worth?

Le Monde gives the top of the front page to a tragedy involving the French pharmaceutical company, Sanofi.

In 2015, the laboratory launched a vaccine against the tropical, mosquito-borne disease, dengue fever, despite a number of concerns about the product's safety. Dengue affects 100 million people every year.

It now appears that several children have died following vaccination in the Philippines, where 830,000 schoolkids were treated with the drug. The authorities are now demanding that the French company refund the entire cost of the vaccination camapign, estimated at 60 million euros.

Sanofi had hoped to make one billion euros every year from the sale of the product.

Cold War front from Russia

Le Figaro gives the honours to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his dream of ensuring that his country has the world's most powerful nuclear arsenal.

The right-wing daily says we are back in the sub-zero realms of the Cold War, with Putin this week celebrating the fact that the Russian secret services "neutralised" no fewer than 400 foreign agents last year alone. Come back James Bond, your country needs you!

And the Russians claim to have proof that Washington has been trying to interfere with the outcome of the Russian presidential poll, due in two weeks' time.

Headless Socialists in search of a voice

Left-leaning Libération devotes its top story to the struggle of the French Socialist Party to find a voice, as the four candidates for the post of party secretary prepare for a debate tonight.

The main headline asks if French Socialists are speaking a dead language, a reference to a vocabulary based on such ideas as "living together," "social ecology", "sharing" and "left-wing".

Libé says that, whatever language they speak, they will have trouble being heard in the echoing vacuum between Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the hard left and Emmanuel Macron of the centre.

Murky money and the stinky rich

Le Monde also carries the shocking news that Forbes magazine, famous for its annual listing of the world's richest people, may not be doing its sums correctly.

The French paper says that the list, considered by many as giving an accurate image of the top end of the world economy, is anything but a fair reflection of the real wealth of the global financial elite.

With that reserve, I can tell you that this year's list is topped by Jeff Bezos of Amazon, just ahead of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and France's very own Bernard Arnault.

But it may all be fiction of the highest order.

In the first place, Forbes is incapable of knowing the true value of the property, cash, paintings, yachts and private planes owned by those it investigates. The magazine bases its league table on the money and shares directly owned by an individual but has no access to that part of the fortune held by trusts or holding companies or in offshore accounts.

For example, Forbes last year credited James Simons, the American businessman who runs a stock exchange investment fund, with a personal fortune of 18.5 billion dollars (15 billion euros). Except that the Paradise Papers leak showed that lucky Jim had stashed anything between seven and 15 further billions in a Bermuda-based trust. About which Forbes knew zilch.

Ditto for our favourite local billionaire, the handbag seller Bernard Arnault, whose Forbes rating makes no mention of several yachts, an estate and house in the London suburbs, nor of his interests in several overseas investment schemes. Which still left ole Bernie with a cool 39 billion euros.

And you have to remember that the Forbes list is far from inclusive. Monarchs rarely get a mention, which explains why, for example, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman does not figure in the American magazine's ratings.

And, on the same subject, Libération notes that, of the 40 richest people in France, only three are women.

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