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France

Eye on France: Who judges the judges?

media French judges are on trial for allegedly making insulting comments about public figures. FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI / AFP

A look at some of the stories lurking on inside pages of today's papers, including a court case to try French judges, a rich initiative to help the poor, the return of Dominique Strauss-Kahn to the club scene, and bad news for those expecting Christmas cards from French super-boss Carlos Ghosn.

A bizarre case opened in the Paris courts this morning.

The trade union representing French judges is itself being judged for “causing public harm to a member of the National Assembly”.

The facts go back to 2013 when it was discovered that the union headquarters had a noticeboard featuring photos of prominent public figures, each accompanied by an unflattering caption. It was commonly known as “the idiot wall”.

Users, that is, union members, were invited to add their own idiots, having ensured that the new candidate did not already feature.

Among those chosen for ridicule were Patrick Balkany, the right-wing politician from the well-heeled Paris suburb of Neuilly, Eric Woerth who was a minister under François Fillon, Christian Jacob, current parliamentary leader of the Republicans party, Luc Chatel. The list goes on. And what worries the prosecutors in today’s case is the fact that the victims of the judges were all right-wing figures.

The union itself is openly and vehemently left wing.

The defending judges say their office notice-board is a private matter and that the content can not be considered public. The allegedly offending pictures and commentaries were purely personal, and in no way implied the support of the trade union as a body.

The prosecuting judges will claim that trade union accommodation is a public place, since frequently visited by journalists. And that the notice-board was thus “published”. It was exactly that when a reporter from France 3 used his phone to take a picture of the wall, which he then sent to a website. Bingo. The idiots were in the public domain.

Perhaps more fundamental to today’s trial is the question raised by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who has reason to know a thing or two about the internal functioning of French justice.

When he was being investigated on suspicion that he might have taken financial advantage of the completely potty l’Oréal cosmetics billionaire, Liliane Bettancourt, Sarko questioned the political agenda of the judges handling his case. “Is it normal,” fulminated the former president, ”to give a case in which my name appears to an individual from the judges union whose political ambition is to destroy me?”

Don’t expect to get much closer to an answer to that question in this particular case.

Call to the rich to help the less well off

One cannot but be touched by the initiative of Denis Duverne and Serge Weinberg who, earlier this week, called on their fellow well-heeled French compatriots to hand over at least 10 percent of their annual income to charitable and benevolent causes.

Denis Duverne is the boss of the insurance group AXA; Serge Weinberg runs the pharmaceutical behemoth Sanofi.

The two men say they have been inspired by the American practice under which the sickeningly rich part with a portion of their boodle in return for public adulation and the undying gratitude of their local Senator. The habit has never really caught on in France where being rich is not regarded as a respectable profession. But the clamouring of the yellow vested hordes at the gates may be about to change all that.

Denis and Serge already have 40 volunteers and hope to have four hundred by the end of the year.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn goes clubbing!

French former economy minister and one-time director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has launched a new club devoted to political debate.

And this is not a thinly disguised return of DSK to the political arena. The man himself says nothing annoys him more than the sight of those sixty-year-olds who are clearly incapable of quitting the political limelight.

The idea of the club is to suggest themes for the future, not to react to what’s happening on the streets right now.

“A lot has been left out of our thinking, and not just in France,” says the former socialist minister. So he’s going to look at such weighty matters as the division of wealth, the consequences of increased life expectancy, the various ways in which the traditional political landscape is being re-mapped.

One hundred people took part in this week’s first monthly meeting of the DSK club. How many of them showed up expecting something completely different remains to be seen.

Carlos Ghosn risks Christmas behind bars

Otherwise and elsewhere, financial paper Les Echos reports that Carlos Ghosn, the troubled boss of the Renault car company, risks spending Christmas behind bars in Japan.

Ghosn, who used to be in charge of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi motor empire, is currently in jail in Tokyo, suspected of having falsified company accounts by under-stating his personal income.

His spell in detention has already been extended once, and will keep him in chokey until Monday next.

Which would be grand if it were not for a report in the Japanese paper Sankei which suggests that the police are preparing new charges against the French businessman, with a view to re-arresting him once his 22 days in custody under the first allegations have expired.

If Sankei is to be believed, the Tokyo police are simply going to add two years to their original suspicions. Ghosn is thus accused, in the first instance, of omitting 39 million euros from the company accounts between 2010 and 2015. He now risks being re-arrested for the same style of omission for the years between 2015 and 2018, a further 31 million euros.

The man himself denies any wrongdoing.

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