Former French President Sarkozy Jailed For Corruption

This file photo taken on February 14, 2016 in Paris shows French right-wing Les Republicains (LR) party President, Nicolas Sarkozy during the LR National Council on February 14, 2016 in Paris. LIONEL BONAVENTURE / AFP

 

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was found guilty of corruption on Monday and handed a three-year prison sentence, in a ruling that deals a major blow to any lingering political ambitions.

The jail sentence includes two years suspended and the remaining year can be served at home with an electronic bracelet, the court ruled, meaning Sarkozy will not end up behind bars over this case.

The judge found the 66-year-old had formed a “corruption pact” with his former lawyer and friend Thierry Herzog in order to convince a judge, Gilbert Azibert, to obtain and share information about a legal investigation.

“The facts for which Nicolas Sarkozy is guilty are particularly serious having been committed by a former president who was the guarantor of the independence of the judiciary,” the judgement read.

Sarkozy, a one-term president from 2007-2012, announced an appeal several hours after the verdict, with his lawyer calling the findings “extremely severe” and “totally unfounded and unjustified”.

READ ALSO: Myanmar’s Suu Kyi Hit With Two New Criminal Charges

The conviction sets a new low-point in the tumultuous political career of the right-winger who remains a dominant political figure in France, admired by fans for his tough talk on crime and immigration.

It is also likely to undermine any attempted comeback to frontline politics — an ambition he has denied, but which has been promoted by many supporters ahead of 2022’s presidential election.

France’s former President Nicolas Sarkozy waves as he leaves The Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris on September 30, 2019, following a luncheon after a church service for former French President Jacques Chirac. Former French President Jacques Chirac died on September 26, 2019 at the age of 86. Bertrand GUAY / AFP

 

Wearing a dark suit and tie, Sarkozy showed no emotion as the sentence was read out and he left court without commenting to waiting journalists.

“What a senseless witchhunt, my love Nicolas Sarkozy,” his wife, former supermodel and singer Carla Bruni, posted on Instagram, next to a picture of the couple embracing. “The fight goes on, the truth will come out. #injustice.”

Only one other modern French president, Sarkozy’s political mentor Jacques Chirac, has been convicted of corruption.

Chirac, who did not attend proceedings in 2011 due to ill health, received a two-year suspended sentence over the creation of ghost jobs at the Paris city hall to fund his party when he was mayor.

– Wiretaps –
The verdict on Monday was based on extensive wiretaps of private conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer in 2014 during which they discussed helping a judge, Gilbert Azibert, obtain a desirable job in Monaco.

In return the judge delivered information about a judicial investigation into Sarkozy’s dealings with billionaire L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt amid allegations that she had handed over envelopes stuffed with cash for campaign financing.

Sarkozy was eventually cleared over his dealings with Bettencourt and has maintained his innocence throughout.

He told the court during his latest trial he had “never committed the slightest act of corruption”.

While reading out her sentence, judge Christine Mee said Sarkozy had “used his status as a former president… in order to favour a magistrate to serve his personal interests.”

On March 17, the ex-president is scheduled to face a second trial over accusations of fraudulently overspending in his failed 2012 re-election bid.

He has also been charged over allegations he received millions of euros from Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi for his 2007 election campaign.

And in January, prosecutors opened another probe into alleged influence-peddling by Sarkozy over his advisory activities in Russia.

– Repercussions –
The guilty verdict on Monday is a further blow to Sarkozy’s centre-right allies in the Republicans party who are struggling to coalesce around a single candidate ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Polls currently show centrist President Emmanuel Macron edging the election, followed by far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

“The severity of the punishment is absolutely out of proportion,” the head of the Republicans party, Christian Jacob, complained on Twitter.

He took aim at the specialised financial crimes prosecutors’ office which pursued Sarkozy, as well as his closest political ally while in power, former prime minister Francois Fillon.

Fillon, whose 2017 bid for the presidency was torpedoed by corruption charges, was convicted in June last year of creating a fake parliamentary job for his wife.

Political scientist Pascal Perrineau said that Sarkozy had been happy to let speculation about another tilt at the presidency in 2022 take off because it helped rehabilitate his image.

“Now it will be a lot more complicated,” he said.

On social media, some users shared previous comments from the pugnacious son of a Hungarian immigrant known for his tough-on-crime rhetoric.

In 2015, Sarkozy spoke out against arrangements that make it possible to convert short prison sentences into non-custodial punishments, which he will benefit from if he fails with his appeal.

“I want there to be no arrangements for sentences of more than six months,” he said.

AFP

First Baby Born After Uterus Transplant In France

 

A baby has been born following a uterus transplant for the first time ever in France, the hospital treating mother and infant said Wednesday.

Such births are extremely rare but not unprecedented and come after a cutting-edge procedure to transplant a healthy uterus into a woman whose own is damaged or missing.

The baby, a girl weighing 1.845 kilogrammes (4.059 pounds), was born on Friday, according to the team at the Foch hospital outside Paris.

“Mother and baby are doing well,” Jean-Marc Ayoubi, head of gynecology, obstetrics, and reproductive medicine at the hospital, told AFP.

The 36-year-old mother, whose name was given only as Deborah, was born without a uterus as she suffered from a rare condition known as Rokitansky Syndrome, which affects about one in 4,500 women.

She received a uterus transplant in March 2019 — performed by the same team that delivered the baby — from her own mother, then aged 57.

The first-ever birth after a uterus transplant was in Sweden in 2014.

It came one year after the transplant surgery in a case that was documented in the medical journal The Lancet.

Other such births have been documented in the US and Brazil, but they remain rare.

The cases offer hope to women suffering from similar reproductive problems, as an alternative to adoption or surrogacy.

AFP

French Health Minister Encourages Use Of AstraZeneca Jab

French Health Minister Olivier Veran speaks to the press after receiving a dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine at the South Ile-de-France Hospital Group (Groupe Hospitalier Sud Ile-de-France), in Melun, on the outskirts of Paris, on February 8, 2021. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / POOL / AFP)

 

French Health Minister Olivier Veran sought to boost confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday as he received a dose in front of TV cameras and reporters at a hospital southwest of Paris.

South Africa has delayed the start of its inoculation programme using the jab from the British-Swedish pharmaceutical group over concerns it does not work on a new variant of Covid-19 that originated in the country.

Veran said that the South African variant had not been widely detected in France.

“I continue to recommend vaccination by the AstraZeneca vaccine, which protects against 99 percent of the viruses that are present in our country,” Veran said from a hospital in the town of Melun.

France received 270,000 doses of the jab on Saturday and would take delivery of another 300,000 in the next few days, he added.

READ ALSO: Djokovic Imperious As Covid-Delayed Australian Open Finally Underway

The vaccine is to be used as a priority for all care workers, including hospital and nursing home staff, as well as domestic workers.

“I encourage all careworkers to get themselves vaccinated in their hospitals, health centres and all available places in order to protect themselves as fast as possible,” Veran said.

The jab distributed by AstraZeneca and developed by the University of Oxford is set to be discussed by WHO experts on Monday amid doubts about its efficacy against the South African variant and against disease in the over-65s.

French President Emmanuel Macron said at the end of January that the shot was “quasi-ineffective for people over 65.”

Pope Appoints First Woman To Senior Synod Post

Pope Francis delivers a homily during Palm Sunday mass behind closed doors at St. Peter’s Basilica mass on April 5, 2020 in The Vatican, during the lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. Alberto PIZZOLI / POOL / AFP.

 

Pope Francis has broken with Catholic tradition to appoint a woman as an undersecretary of the synod of bishops, the first to hold the post with voting rights in a body that studies major questions of doctrine.

Frenchwoman Nathalie Becquart is one of the two new undersecretaries named Saturday to the synod, where she has been a consultant since 2019.

The appointment signals the pontiff’s desire “for a greater participation of women in the process of discernment and decision-making in the church”, said Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary-general of the synod.

“During the previous synods, the number of women participating as experts and listeners has increased,” he said.

“With the nomination of Sister Nathalie Becquart and her possibility of participating in voting, a door has opened.”

The synod is led by bishops and cardinals who have voting rights and also comprises experts who cannot vote, with the next gathering scheduled for autumn 2022.

A special synod on the Amazon in 2019 saw 35 female “auditors” invited to the assembly, but none could vote.

The Argentinian-born pope has signalled his wish to reform the synod and have women and laypeople play a greater role in the church.

He named Spaniard Luis Marin de San Martin as the other under undersecretary in the synod of bishops.

Becquart, 52, a member of the France-based Xaviere Sisters, has a master’s degree in management from the prestigious HEC business school in Paris and studied in Boston before joining the order.

AFP

To Avoid Lockdown, France Cracks Down On COVID-19 Rule Breakers

Health workers take nasal swabs from people for both Covid-19 antigen and RT-PCR tests at a drive-through testing site in Marseille on December 21, 2020. (Photo by Christophe SIMON / AFP)

 

The scene at the small Parisian cafe looks almost normal: smokers queueing for a pack of cigarettes, gamblers buying lottery tickets or picking up betting slips for the races.

That is, until the police walk in, reminding customers, and the owner, that nothing is the same in the Covid pandemic.

“There are too many people here, count them,” an officer orders his team.

It turns out that nine people are crowding the tiny space, too many according to government rules saying that shops and other outlets can admit only one customer for every eight square metres (86 square feet) of floor space.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 And Conflicts Compete For Attention At African Union Summit

President Emmanuel Macron’s government is trying to avoid another Covid lockdown, which would be France’s third, even as infection numbers remain high.

On Wednesday, the public health authority reported 26,362 new Covid cases for the previous 24 hours and 358 Covid deaths.

– ‘I don’t want to close’ –
Instead, the government hopes that measures already in force — including a nightly curfew from 6:00 pm and a ban on cafes and restaurants except for takeaway fare — will be enough to cut infection numbers.

To make sure they do, authorities are getting tougher on those who don’t comply.

“Please let us stay open, I don’t want to close, I want to work,” pleads the owner of the bar in the east of the capital when the officer tells him that he risks being closed down as well as fined.

To no avail: “I’m not the perfect, I don’t decide, I simply file my report,” the policeman responds.

Once such an incident is reported, sanctions can follow quickly, sometimes the same day, or the next morning.

“It’s a tough job. I’m always on my clients’ backs, always telling them to wear masks. I enforce the law, but customers don’t like it,” the owner says from behind the bar fitted with sheets of plastic for protection.

Volunteers distribute face masks and leaflets to commuters outside a metro station in Vincennes on the outskirts of the French capital Paris, on April 30, 2020, on the 45th day of a lockdown in France aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 disease, caused by the novel coronavirus. Philippe LOPEZ / AFP.

 

But the officer is adamant: “You have to educate your clients. Here, you need to think of yourself as both a tobacconist and a policeman.”

The owner promises to post a large sign at the door saying “No more than three people at the same time.”

Over the past week, the French capital’s police have cracked down much more severely on establishments receiving customers that do not meet the health requirements.

“We’ve become much stricter. We don’t tolerate any violations,” said Romain Semedard, police chief for Paris’s 12th Arrondissement. “We used to hand out warnings. Now we close them down, usually for a week or two.”

At a kebab takeaway nearby, police caught a staff member with a face mask tucked under his nose instead of covering it, and fined him 135 euros ($162) on the spot.

A tobacconist failing to advertise the maximum number of clients allowed was fined the previous day.

– ‘A question of fairness’ –
And a corner grocer who was caught staying open beyond the 6:00 pm curfew received notice to shutter the shop.

“That may seem harsh, but it’s a question of fairness towards those who abide by the rules,” Semedard said.

Inside a small Italian restaurant, an elderly lady was sitting at a table and a regular was leaning on the bar when the police arrived.

“They’re waiting for their takeout order and the lady needed to sit, is that allowed?” the anxious restaurant owner inquired when a patrol arrived.

“So long as they don’t eat or drink in here, everything is in order,” an officer replied.

Further down the street, the patrol inspected the cellar of a restaurant for signs of any recent illegal gathering, but they found only stacks of tables and chairs stored away awaiting better days.

Elsewhere in Paris, police discovered 24 restaurants opening illegally last week alone, and shut them all down for two weeks.

Authorities have also been making good on a threat by Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who said that restaurants violating Covid rules would lose access to emergency government funding for a month at first, and indefinitely if they are caught again.

AFP

French Firm To Start Making Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine Next Month – Minister

This file photo taken on February 2, 2021, shows a vial of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at the first Covid-19 vaccination center in Belgium, in Brussels, amid the crisis linked with the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

A French lab will start producing Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in March, while another will begin making the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech in April, Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said Wednesday.

President Emmanuel Macron pledged Tuesday that four sites on French soil would begin making coronavirus vaccines soon, as the government draws sharp criticism over an inoculation drive that has started off slowly.

French pride has also taken a hit after its pharma giant Sanofi said its COVID vaccine would not be ready until later this year.

The health crisis has prompted governments to push for more widespread production of vaccines already available, overriding the industry’s fierce resistance to sharing intellectual property secrets.

“Production at the first site will begin in March for the Moderna vaccine,” at a lab operated by Recipharm, Pannier-Runacher told RTL radio.

“We’ll then have a production site running in April for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine,” she said.

“And in May, we should (also) be producing the CureVac vaccine, for which we are waiting for approval,” she said, referring to the German biotech firm that could start French production at a lab owned by Fareva.

A French Sanofi lab will start making the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the second quarter, even as it pursues research on its own jab, as will the French firm Delpharm.

Separately, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine could be used in France as long as it meets “scientific norms” and European “standards.”

“If Sputnik is confirmed and approved by the European Medicines Agency and France’s top health authority, there will be no impediment to its distribution,” he told Europe 1 radio.

France is hoping to avoid a new national lockdown as the number of coronavirus cases rises, with authorities reporting Tuesday a further 404 deaths over the previous 24 hours, as well as a new increase in intensive care cases to 3,270 in total.

French Police Arrest Nine Over 15-Year-Old’s Gang Beating

Police have arrested nine young people over the vicious beating of a 15-year-old boy, named only as Yuriy, that was caught on video and went viral, prosecutors said. The attack in a busy and well-heeled neighbourhood of Paris shocked residents, though police have noted violent disputes between rival bands of youths in the area. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

 

Police have arrested nine young people over the vicious beating of a teenage boy that was caught on video and went viral, prosecutors said on Thursday.

The attack in a busy and well-heeled neighbourhood of Paris shocked residents, though police have noted violent disputes between rival bands of youths in the area.

The detained suspects — eight minors and one young adult — were being investigated for attempted murder, gang violence and theft, prosecutors said.

Nataliya Kruchenyk, mother of the 15-year-old victim named only as Yuriy, said this week he had emerged from a coma induced by doctors following the January 15 attack near a shopping centre in the 15th district.

Kruchenyk said her son had left school with friends when he was accosted by around a dozen people, a scene captured by a surveillance camera.

The attackers, some hiding their faces with hoods, kicked and punched him as he lay on the ground, and also struck him with what appeared to be a tool.

Yuriy was carrying a screwdriver in his pocket when he was attacked, prosecutors said on Thursday.

 

A picture taken on January 28 2021 shows a view of the Beaugrenelle esplanade in the 15th district of Paris, where a teenager was beaten by a group of youth on January 15.  (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

 

Lawmakers and celebrities including footballer Antoine Griezmann and actor Omar Sy of the hit series “Lupin” denounced the assault, which police said might have resulted from a gang rivalry.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti has vowed that “there will be no impunity for Yuriy’s aggressors”.

President Emmanuel Macron has promised to reduce crime and insecurity while bolstering investments for police.

From France To Rwanda’s Hills, The Husband-And-Wife Genocide Hunters

Bisesero genocide survivors Narcisse Kabanda (R) and Aaron Mukomeza (L) pose for a portrait in Bisesero, western Rwanda, on December 2, 2020. – Narcisse Kabanda says that it gives them strength every time they hear that people on the run who carried out the genocide have been arrested. (Photo by Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP)

 

A stunned silence, and then cries of joy ring out in the green Bisesero hills.

Survivors of one of the most terrible episodes of the genocide in Rwanda have just spotted Alain Gauthier — their lifeline to justice.

“I’ve come to say ‘turikumwe’ (“we are together”) and that you mustn’t lose heart or hope,” the 72-year-old Frenchman tells them.

His brow burnt from the relentless sun, Gauthier has travelled nearly 9,000 kilometres (5,600 miles) to bring news to the people of this remote village.

A genocide suspect from their region is due to be tried in France, he tells them, as he is warmly embraced by Tutsi herders who have come to know him well.

With his Rwandan-born wife Dafroza, 66, Gauthier has devoted decades of his life to tracking down genocide suspects who have found refuge in France.

They have become nicknamed “The Klarsfelds of Rwanda” after Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, fighting to prevent evil from being consigned to a footnote of history.

Genocide Survivor Albertine Mukakamanzi (L) is overwhelmed by emotion as Alain Gauthier (R) try to comfort her at the Gatwaro Genocide Memorial in Kibuye, western Rwanda, on December 1, 2020. – The Gatwaro Genocide Memorial has skulls, bones and belongings from hundreds of victims of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. (Photo by Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP)

 

In just 100 days in 1994, some 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate members of the Hutu majority were slaughtered, in massacres orchestrated and inflamed by the authorities.

So far, the Gauthiers’ efforts have led to about 30 legal cases being initiated in France against Rwandan suspects, all of them men.

Six have gone on trial, three of whom have been convicted. One was jailed for 25 years and the other two given life sentences.

This early December day in Bisesero marked just one stop in a two-week trip in which Gauthier criss-crossed Rwanda, accompanied by an AFP journalist.

READ ALSO: The Nine Lives Of Rwanda Genocide Survivor Albertine

The hills stretch into the distance, their shades of green capped by a gentle mist extending over Lake Kivu.

Gathered around him, the ageing, weather-beaten herders, clutching sticks and wearing trilby hats, talk of wives and children lost.

For weeks the Tutsis of Bisesero held off their local attackers until the extremist Hutu government had militiamen brought in from other regions to launch mass attacks.

An estimated 50,000 people were killed.

“Each time we hear that people on the run have been arrested, it gives us strength,” one of the herders, Narcisse Kabanda, 63, says.

 

Bisesero genocide survivor Aaron Kabogora poses for a photograph in Bisesero, western Rwanda, on December 2, 2020. – Aaron Kabogora lost 10 family members in the Bisesero massacres and still has a bullet still lodged in his leg and scars visible on his shoulder. (Photo by Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP)

 

Claude Muhayimana, a former hotel driver in Rwanda who took refuge in France and gained French nationality in 2010, was due to have gone on trial in Paris on February 2.

He is accused of having transported Hutu militiamen to sites in the west, including the Bisesero region, where massacres were carried out.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic making it difficult for witnesses to travel, the opening of the court case has been postponed.

– Race against time –

Aaron Kabogora lost 10 family members in the Bisesero massacres.

“My wife, my children… they were killed in different places, for some, we still haven’t found the bodies,” says the thin-faced 71-year-old, a bullet still lodged in his leg and scars visible on his shoulder.

Gauthier has come especially to see Kabogora. He wants to follow up on some strong testimony in the Muhayimana case that he gathered on a previous visit.

“I was born here, I lived through the genocide here, there are lots of Interahamwe (militia) who passed through here,” Kabogora says.

Gauthier decides on the spot to cite Kabogora in the case so at least one Bisesero survivor will testify.

A few days later proves even more fruitful when he meets for the first time a former close neighbour of Muhayimana, who he hopes will offer some “very precise facts” to the court case.

“It’s essential that those who have seen, and those who know, talk,” he says.

Some of the planners, sponsors and killers of the genocide have faced trial in Rwanda or other countries as well as before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

But many continue to evade justice.

“It’s a race against the clock,” Rwanda’s Prosecutor General Aimable Havugiyaremye told AFP in an interview in the capital, Kigali.

“As time passes, what’s more difficult is identifying these suspects, even physically,” he said, adding many change identity and nationality, making international cooperation crucial.

He hopes that that will be helped by efforts under way to move online all the witness accounts they have collected so far and by creating a database to share information.

For more than two decades, the Gauthiers have travelled to Rwanda about three times a year during their holidays and now retirement to search for evidence from ex-killers, prisoners and survivors.

They do it as volunteers and on behalf of all victims, they say.

Muhayimana was arrested in 2014 in the northwestern French city of Rouen.

A year earlier, an investigation had been opened due to a case brought by the Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda (CPCR), an association co-founded by the Gauthiers.

– ‘Our life changed’ –

Nearly 27 years after the genocide, Gauthier still gets emotional talking about the day he had to tell Dafroza that her mother, Suzana, had been shot outside the church in a Kigali parish where she had taken refuge.

“April 6, 1994, that’s when our lives changed — a cataclysm in our lives, like all victims’ families,” he said.

Between 70 and 80 members of her family were killed, Dafroza told AFP, her eyes empty.

“On my mother’s side there were no survivors: my mother, my uncles, nephews were killed,” she said in an interview in their home town of Reims, northeastern France.

 

Bisesero genocide survivor Narcisse Kabanda is seen in Bisesero, western Rwanda, on December 2, 2020. – Narcisse Kabanda says that it gives them strength every time they hear that people on the run who carried out the genocide have been arrested. (Photo by Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP)

 

While the genocide was under way, Gauthier said the pair, despite their deep shock, fought to raise awareness of what was going on.

“We wrote to politicians, newspapers, we did demonstrations… and we went to work,” the retired teacher and school headmaster said.

Dafroza was employed as a chemical engineer and they had three young children; later, they took in victims’ children too.

Two things would prove decisive in making up their minds to campaign for the prosecution of genocide suspects.

First were the horrifying stories they heard on their initial trips back to Rwanda after the 1994 killings.

Then, in 2001, at the end of a court hearing they were attending in Brussels against four suspects, the founder of a Belgian victims’ association turned to them and said bluntly: “And you in France, what are you doing?”

That same year, the CPCR was set up.

Since then “we haven’t had a single day without talking about the genocide…” Gauthier said.

– ‘Too long’ –

While Rwanda was never a French colony, successive French governments cultivated close ties after the country’s independence in 1962, including training its top military leaders.

France also signed military deals with the Hutu strongman president Juvenal Habyarimana, whose death in 1994 sparked the massacres.

Against the backdrop of these ties, a number of genocide suspects have sought refuge in France.

Rwanda has made 48 extradition requests to France, more than to any other European country.

But France’s highest court has consistently opposed the extradition to Rwanda of suspects accused by Kigali of genocide, on the grounds that the crime was not in the Rwandan statute books at the time of the massacre.

The Gauthiers believe that it has taken the French justice system “too long” to start honing in on suspects, even if things have improved since 2012.

They welcomed the creation of both the position of a special prosecutor in France and a central office for combating crimes against humanity, known by its initials as the OCLCH.

Nevertheless, procedures are slow and time is lost which only helps the perpetrators, they bemoan.

 

Alain Gauthier poses for a photograph in Kibuye, western Rwanda, on December 2, 2020. – Alain Gauthier and his wife Dafroza Gauthier has devoted much of their life to tracking down genocide suspects who have found refuge in France. (Photo by Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP)

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to put together cases because many witnesses have died,” Gauthier said.

“Others have failing memories or no longer want to talk” encouraged by the Rwandan authorities to favour reconciliation.

The accused are elderly and “risk never being put on trial,” he said.

And in some areas with few survivors where perpetrators return home after serving lengthy prison sentences, witnesses feel afraid and alone, he added.

In France, conducting a legal case against a Rwandan genocide suspect takes on average 10 years at a cost of a million euros ($1.2 million), said Eric Emeraux, the former OCLCH head.

“The NGOs which do this tracing work are indispensable, because the French state’s resources are not up to the challenge,” he said in Paris.

The Gauthiers have funded their work themselves and thanks to donations made to the association.

– ‘Must hold to account’ –

For his latest trip across Rwanda, Gauthier focussed on gathering evidence for five cases, scattered over 11 areas.

Travelling around Rwanda on roads crowded with motorcycle taxis, women with goods piled high on their heads, dusty trucks and bikes carrying live chickens, Gauthier passes the hours humming along to the latest album by his son-in-law Gael Faye.

Faye is a musician and writer who authored “Small Country” (“Petit Pays”), a hugely successful novel set in the 1990s during the war in Burundi and genocide in Rwanda.

Gauthier is a dual French-Rwandan national, an attachment that dates to when he taught in Rwanda in the early 1970s, in a town where Dafroza was also studying.

Genocide Survivor Albertine Mukakamanzi pose for a photograph in front of coffins in Gatwaro Genocide Memorial in Kibuye, western province of Rwanda, on December 1, 2020. – The Gatwaro Genocide Memorial has skulls, bones and belongings from hundreds of victims of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. (Photo by Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP)

Despite nights blighted by insomnia and chronic back pain, he is up at dawn for an invigorating milky ginger tea, before hitting the road again.

In the evening back at his modest hotel, he reads through his notes again, deep in concentration and often consternation, lost in survivors’ accounts.

“For the victims, it’s essential that those who killed their loved ones are held to account, it’s a way for them to rebuild their lives,” Gauthier says.

– Working through the list –

Searches often begin with a tipoff.

One came as an anonymous letter from students about a suspect in western France; another from a friend alerting them to a hospital co-worker.

When the Gauthiers have gathered evidence, they submit a lawsuit to judges in Paris.

A general view of skulls of victims of the Tutsi genocide stored in a showcase in Gatwaro Genocide Memorial in Kibuye, western province of Rwanda, on December 1, 2020. – The Gatwaro Genocide Memorial has skulls, bones and belongings from hundreds of victims of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. (Photo by Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP)

On the ground in Rwanda, a network of survivors helps out, as well as Gauthier’s former students, who look for witnesses, translate and draw up lists.

On his December visit, Gauthier had a list of witnesses in the case of a priest under investigation by French authorities since the end of 2019.

He gathered accounts about the suspect’s alleged actions in his church in April 1994, talking discreetly to people away from the public gaze.

In floods of tears, one of them, a woman who said she’d been just 10 years old at the time, told AFP how she had stayed in the church for two weeks, hidden and terrified, among her family’s corpses.

She only came out when bulldozers arrived to put the bodies in a communal grave, she said.

Appalled at what he hears, Gauthier asks two women to put their accounts into writing.

The following week he travels to the southern town of Nyanza to see around 15 people in a case against a former Rwandan policeman.

Philippe Hategekimana has been in provisional detention in France since 2019, suspected of involvement in the genocide.

This time, the task at hand is laborious but crucial — the filling in of documents necessary for submission to the French justice authorities.

To ensure they are accepted, he must check names, ages, witnesses’ relationships to victims — and the correct addresses, no easy matter faced with the reality of rural Rwanda.

Phone calls swiftly follow from hesitant husbands to their wives, checking on children’s ages.

And after a few hours, it’s all wrapped up over beers and goat meat kebabs.

– For critics, they’re too close –

“So, how’s the work going?” a well-known musician calls out to Gauthier in Kigali where he is often recognised in the street.

He regularly goes to the Rwandan public prosecutor’s offices and is in contact with Theoneste Karenzi, who heads the unit in charge of protecting victims and witnesses.

At the age of 16, Karenzi survived alone after his family’s massacre in the western city of Kibuye.

Describing the Gauthiers as “courageous people”, Karenzi said their “contribution is major” in initiating cases against suspects.

But the husband-and-wife team has critics, too.

Detractors claim they are a “network of informers” and criticise their ties with the Rwandan government, which is often accused of clamping down on dissent.

In 2017, President Paul Kagame awarded the couple the National Order for Exceptional Friendship in recognition of their work.

Philippe Meilhac, defence lawyer for about 10 Rwandans in the crosshairs of French justice including Muhayimana, condemns their closeness to the Kigali regime.

 

Clothes of victims of the Tutsi genocide stored in Gatwaro Genocide Memorial in Kibuye, western province of Rwanda, on December 1, 2020.

 

He claims that the Gauthiers’ association is “to a certain extent, a technical and political instrument for the Rwandan authorities”.

Canadian journalist Judi Rever, who wrote the controversial book “In Praise of Blood” about alleged crimes by forces of Rwanda’s ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) party, is similarly critical.

Rever, who is accused by Kigali of promoting a revisionist version of the genocide, claims the Gauthiers are working for the RPF.

“In several cases of inquiry, it’s opponents of the RPF or witnesses of RPF crimes who are targeted,” she said in comments to AFP.

But Gauthier says their part is just to get the ball rolling. “We originate the proceedings, but it’s not us who convict, it’s juries made up of citizens,” he said.

“A legal truth emerges from it which corresponds to our expectations but which is not ours,” he added.

For now though, the couple are busy preparing for Muhayimana’s court case, for which no new date has yet been announced.

But afterwards, the Frenchman has promised to return to tell the Bisesero survivors all about the hearing half a world away.

AFP

Stocks Slide On Possible COVID-19 Restrictions

 

European stock markets fell Monday on news that France might be headed for a fresh lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.

In New York, the Dow Jones index was also lower in midday trading, but the main Asian markets ended higher.

The dollar traded mixed, while oil prices edged higher.

“Renewed lockdowns and restrictive measures globally are dragging down the European bourses,” commented Edward Moya, a market analyst at Oanda.

“A steady stream of countries mulling travel curbs and delays with vaccines is taking its toll with European stocks,” he noted.

“France looks set for a third lockdown, with the spread of the UK strain likely to bring further travel restrictions,” added Joshua Mahony, market analyst at IG trading group.

The United States was set to join France, Israel and Sweden in refusing some travellers, with special concern about new strains of the pathogen that originated in Brazil, Britain and South Africa.

READ ALSO: California Ends Wide Lockdown As COVID-19 Hospital Strain Eases

Elsewhere, investors kept tabs on the progress of US President Joe Biden’s economic rescue package.

US Lawmakers are working on a $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal from the new president, with some suggesting they could pass something before the Senate holds an impeachment trial of Donald Trump.

That is expected during the week beginning February 8.

But the stimulus will likely face headwinds from Republicans who think another massive outlay comes too soon after the $900 billion spending package passed at the end of last year.

“This week will likely see more Republican objections arise and posturing from Democrats,” Moya forecast, while adding: “Stimulus will happen, but talks could linger all week long.”

The Federal Reserve is set to hold its first meeting under the Biden administration this week, with investors looking for clues about its plans for monetary policy.

In France, shares in the electricity company EDF plunged by more than 15 percent to 10.45 euros meanwhile, owing to a media report that its reorganisation plan faced stiff opposition from EU officials.

– Key figures around 1700 GMT –

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 1.4 percent at 3,553.14 points

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.5 percent at 30,829.69

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.8 percent at 6,638.85 (close)

Frankfurt – DAX 30: DOWN 1.7 percent at 13,643.95 (close)

Paris – CAC 40: DOWN 1.6 percent at 5,472.36 (close)

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.7 percent at 28,822.29 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 2.4 percent at 30,159.01 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.5 percent at 3,624.24 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.2136 from $1.2168 at 2130 GMT on Friday

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 103.77 yen from 103.79 yen

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3664 from $1.3683

Euro/pound: DOWN at 88.82 pence from 88.92 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.1 percent at $52.31 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.2 percent at $55.52 per barrel

France Imposes Border Controls In Scramble To Avoid Lockdown

(Photo by Christophe SIMON / AFP)

 

New border controls went into force in France on Sunday as part of a massive effort to contain the spread of Covid-19 and avoid another nationwide lockdown.

After a slow start to vaccinations, French health authorities reported that a million people had received coronavirus inoculations by Saturday.

But stubbornly high new rates for infections, hospitalisations and Covid deaths fuelled fears France may need another full lockdown, which would be the third, inflicting yet more devastation on businesses and daily lives.

Starting Sunday, arrivals to France from European Union countries by air or sea must be able to produce a negative PCR test result obtained in the previous 72 hours.

READ ALSO: Nigeria’s COVID-19 Cases Surge Past 120,000 As NCDC Confirms 1,633 New Infections

The requirement had already applied to non-EU arrivals since mid-January.

EU travellers entering France by land, including cross-border workers, will not need a negative test.

Some 62,000 people currently arrive in French airports and sea ports from other EU countries every week, according to Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari.

Paris’s main international airport Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle has set up testing centres in a terminal dedicated to intra-EU flights to allow arriving passengers who failed to obtain a test in their country of origin to get one before passing immigration.

The French health agency on Saturday reported 23,924 new Covid cases in the previous 24 hours, and 321 new coronavirus deaths, taking the French death toll to 72,877.

The total number of hospitalised Covid patients stood at 25,800, of whom nearly 2,900 were in intensive care.

Also by Saturday, one million people in France had received at least one anti-Covid jab, Prime Minister Jean Castex said, four weeks after kicking off the vaccination campaign, focusing first on people over 75 in care homes and health workers over 50.

Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said she was “reasonably confident” France would meet its target of vaccinating 15 million people by the end of June, adding more than 1.9 million vaccine doses had been received to date.

Health Minister Oliver Veran meanwhile warned that if current measures, including a nationwide daily curfew starting at 6:00 pm, prove insufficient, another lockdown can not be ruled out.

“We need the curfew to show results,” Veran said.

“In a best-case scenario, we will manage to diminish the pressure of the epidemic. If not, we will not wait for the month of March before acting,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.

France went into lockdown twice in 2020, the first time between March and May and then October to December.

France Imposes 6pm Nationwide COVID-19 Curfew

CHARLES PLATIAU / POOL / AFP

 

The French government will impose a daily nationwide curfew at 6:00 pm starting Saturday to fight the spread of Covid-19, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday.

The measure will remain in force for at least two weeks, Castex told a news conference.

Up to now, most of France has been under an 8:00 pm curfew, with some parts of the country, especially in the hard-hit east, already under the stricter 6:00 pm curfew.

Castex said a much-feared infection surge following the year-end holidays had not happened, but said a new lockdown could be imposed “without delay” if the health situation were to deteriorate badly.

The situation in France is “under control”, he said, but still “fragile”.

Schools will remain open, but indoor sports activities have again been banned for now.

Castex also said that travellers arriving in France from non-European Union destinations would have to present a negative Covid test less than 72 hours old, and would have to self-isolate for seven days. They would then have to take a second test.

France Court Probes Minister For Conflict Of Interest

A file photo of a court gavel.

 

A French court has launched an investigation into Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti for alleged conflict of interest relating to his time as a lawyer, prosecutors told AFP on Wednesday.

The Court of the Republic, which deals with cases involving suspected misconduct by sitting cabinet members, launched the probe following complaints by Anticor, an anti-corruption association, and three magistrates’ unions.

The allegations centre on an administrative investigation ordered by Dupond-Moretti against three prosecutors working at the financial crimes prosecutor’s office.

READ ALSO: Biden Names Samantha Power As US Aid Chief, Boosts Role

The three were part of a team trying to find a mole who may have warned former president Nicolas Sarkozy and his lawyer Thierry Herzog that their phones were being tapped as part of a corruption probe.

The investigators checked the phone records of, among others, Dupond-Moretti, who was still a criminal defence lawyer at the time and not yet a minister, and who filed a complaint against them.

Asked last week about the allegations that he may have used his cabinet job to settle scores, Dupond-Moretti said: “When the time comes I will explain myself, you can count on me to say everything that I have to say”.

AFP