Lost ‘$170 Million Caravaggio’ Bought Before French Auction

Technicians work on the hanging of a painting believed by some experts to be Caravaggio’s “Judith Beheading Holofernes” for its public presentation at the Marc Labarbe auction house on June 15, 2019 in Toulouse before it goes under the hammer next June 27, five years after it was discovered in the attic of an old house in Toulouse.
ERIC CABANIS / AFP

 

A painting thought to be a “lost masterpiece” by Italian painter Caravaggio has been bought two days before it was due to go under the hammer in France.

“Judith and Holofernes”, which was found in attic of an old house in the French city of Toulouse, was snapped up by a foreign buyer, the auction house selling it said on Tuesday.

The art expert who authenticated the painting said it was worth between 100 and 150 million euros (up to $170 million), although several Italian specialists have doubts about the canvass.

French Intelligence Question Top Journalist Over Article

Ariane Chemin was questioned on May 29, 2019, by France’s General Directorate for Internal Security (Direction Generale de la Securite Interieure, DGSI) for her articles on the case of Alexander Benalla/ AFP

 

France’s domestic intelligence service on Wednesday questioned a journalist who broke the story of a scandal that shook President Emmanuel Macron, the latest in a growing number of reporters to be quizzed in a trend that has disturbed press freedom activists.

Ariane Chemin, who works for the Le Monde daily, said she was questioned by General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) for some 45 minutes in the presence of her lawyer after being summoned last week.

“I explained that I only carried out my job of a journalist,” she told AFP after the meeting.

She added she had insisted on her rights to keep sources secret while carrying out work of public interest based on a law dating back to 1881.

“They asked me many questions on the manner in which I checked my information, which was an indirect way of asking me about my sources,” she said.

Le Monde’s managing director Louis Dreyfus was also questioned by the DGSI on Wednesday.

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Chemin has written a series of articles over the former presidential bodyguard Alexandre Benalla, who was fired last year after he was filmed roughing up a protester in one of the biggest scandals to shake Macron to date.

It was a July 18 article by Chemin that first reported that Benalla had beaten the May Day demonstrator while wearing a police helmet.

The summons stemmed in particular from articles about former air force officer Chokri Wakrim, the partner of Marie-Elodie Poitout, the ex-head of security at the prime minister’s office.

Poitout resigned her post after media revelations that she and Wakrim had welcomed Benalla to their home in July but insisted it had only been a social affair.

The Elysee has been accused of covering up the affair by failing to report Benalla to the authorities.

The secret service has already summoned seven reporters who published details over how French arms sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were being used in Yemen’s civil war, sparking an outcry by press freedom activists.

The SNJ-CGT union has called for a demonstration outside the headquarters of the DGSI on Wednesday “in support of those journalists summoned by the French state in violation of the law on press freedom.”

The association of Le Monde reporters (SRM) said on their Twitter account that Chemin was simply “bringing to attention of citizens information that was in the public interest and thus was only doing her job.”

But Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told the French Senate on Wednesday that the summons should “in no way be seen as an attempt at intimidation or a threat”.

She said the summons for Chemin was issued as part of a preliminary enquiry carried out under the supervision of the Paris prosecutor following a complaint by a special forces member that his identity had been revealed by the paper.

Macron Honours Jean Vanier, Ally Of Mentally Disabled

Late Jean Vanier and French President Emmanuel Macron

 

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday lauded the life and work of Jean Vanier, who founded a pioneering network of communities for people with mental disabilities and lived at one of them in northern France until his death this week.

“This great spiritualist and humanist left us a more inclusive and better-shared world,” the presidency said in a statement following Vanier’s death on Tuesday.

He was 90 years old and had been fighting cancer for several weeks, according to L’Arche (The Ark), a network of some 150 residential communities operating in around three-dozen countries, with more than 10,000 members.

Vanier, the son of a Canadian diplomat, was an officer in the British and Canadian navies before abandoning the military to study theology in Paris, with the idea of becoming a priest.

But after being shocked by the conditions at a mental institution he visited, he gave up everything in 1964 to live with two mentally handicapped men in the village of Trosly-Breuil in northern France, which quickly attracted new residents.

The concept spread as some of his colleagues went on to establish more centres around the world.

“At the Ark, you start by wanting to help people, and you end up realising that it’s the people with a handicap who change you, who show you another picture of life and humanity,” Vanier told AFP in a 2014 interview.

The next year he was awarded the Templeton Prize, a $1.7 million honour for “entrepreneurs of the spirit”.

Vanier also created in 1971 the Faith and Light network, which now counts nearly 1,500 communities that bring together mentally disabled adolescents and adults along with their families.

In 2000 he founded Intercordia, which offers young people around the world the chance to participate in solidarity projects.

Pope Francis also mourned Vanier as “a man who understood the Christian command” to care for those rejected or marginalised by society.

Vatican Envoy Speaks To French Police On Sex Assault Charges

French President Emannuel Macron (L) shakes hands with Apostolic Nuncio to France Luigi Ventura during his New Year wishes to the diplomatic corps at the Elysee Palace in Paris. ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

The Vatican’s envoy to Paris has been heard by French police “at his request” over sex assault allegations, judicial sources said Thursday.

Nuncio Luigi Ventura spoke to police at the start of April, they said. Ventura is being investigated for allegedly molesting officials at the Paris mayor’s office.

The 74-year-old is accused of allegedly assaulting a man at the town hall in Paris on January 17 when Mayor Anne Hidalgo gave a New Year’s address to diplomats, religious leaders and civil society figures.

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A similar complaint has been filed by a former Paris city employee for an incident that allegedly took place a year ago, according to city hall officials.

His immunity has not been lifted, according to the prosecutor’s office in Paris.

The Italian-born Ventura is also being investigated for alleged sexual assault in Canada where he served as the Vatican envoy from 2001 to 2009.

AFP

30 Jihadists ‘Killed Or Captured’ In Raids Near Burkina Faso – French Military

Burkina Faso on the map.

 

French and Malian troops killed or captured more than 30 extremists and dismantled a jihadist training camp during a major counter-terrorism operation near Mali’s border with Burkina Faso, the French military told AFP on Friday.

“Over 30 members of armed terrorist groups were neutralised,” the military said, a term meaning that they were killed or captured.

A French military doctor was also killed during the operation, the military previously reported.

The operation was launched in late March in Gourma, a crossroads region in Mali’s central belt that flanks the border with Burkina Faso.

The doctor was killed when his vehicle hit a mine, bringing to 24 the number of French defence force members killed in counter-terrorism operations in the region since 2013.

Some 4,500 French troops are deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad to help local forces try to flush out jihadist groups, six years after France helped chase al-Qaeda fundamentalists out of northern Mali.

The Gourma area is a haven for armed groups who hide in the forests along the border with Burkina Faso to the south, including a group suspected of carrying out several cross-border attacks.

Around 700 French troops and 150 Malian troops were deployed in the air and ground operation to try to destroy their bases.

On the other side of the border Burkina Faso had deployed troops “to prevent any attempt by the enemy to escape towards the south of the zone,” French military spokesman Patrik Steiger said.

The operation first targeted the Foulsare forest in the southwest of Gao province, where the troops found “a logistical base” containing rocket launchers and other weaponry, the military said.

No jihadists were killed in that offensive, the defence forces said.

The second phase of the operation, which caused the losses on the jihadists’ side, targeted several sites including a training camp in the Serma forest.

A pick-up truck, a dozen motorbikes and arms and ammunition, including large amounts of material used to make roadside bombs were seized, the military said.

AFP

French Banks Call For End To ‘Yellow Vest’ Violence

Women march with balloons during a rally of the Women’s Yellow Vest protest movement (Femmes Gilets jaunes) near Place de la Bastille in Paris on January 6, 2019. France’s “yellow vest” protesters were back on the streets again on January 5 as a government spokesman denounced those still protesting as hard-liners who wanted only to bring down the government.
Bertrand GUAY / AFP

 

French banks called Saturday for an end to violence against branches, cash machines and personnel as the country braced for a 20th day of “yellow vest” protests.

Since the “yellow vest” anti-government protests began in November, more than 760 banks have suffered damage.

“It is time for all to condemn acts committed against banks,” the French banking federation’s executive committee said in comments published in the daily Le Monde.

“Yellow vest” demonstrations are expected Saturday in several French cities despite bans in hotspots such as the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris and the centre of Bordeaux.

Banks have often been the targets of vandalism and arson during the protests, and last week 11 people were injured when a Banque Tarneaud branch was set on fire near the Champs Elysees.

“We must quickly put a stop to this unbridled and unjustified violence,” the federation said.

It called for order to be restored “so that our colleagues and shop owners can work safely” and meet their clients needs.

The call was echoed by the police union Alliance, which told AFP Saturday its members “were fed up” with critics that sought to blame them for the violence.

“Our duty is to maintain public peace, even if that sometimes means restoring public order,” Alliance secretary-general Frederic Lagache said.

The banking federation’s executive committee comprises the bosses of six large French banks; BPCE, BNP Paribas, Credit Mutuel, Banque Postale, Credit Agricole and Societe Generale.

“For a little more than four months, hundreds of local branches that are essential links in local life… have been targeted, vandalised, pillaged and burned, and bank officers physically threatened,” the federation said.

With taxes a key trigger in the initial protests, it said French banks were the primary contributor to fiscal revenues, paying 644 euros ($720) for each 1,000 euros in net profit, excluding social charges.

France counts 37,000 bank branches and the sector employs more than 360,000 people.

After Ronaldo Bruising, Japan’s Shoji Now Eyes Stopping Mbappe

Colombia’s midfielder James Rodriguez (C) fights for the ball against Japan’s defender Gen Shoji (L) and midfielder Gaku Shibasaki (R) during their friendly football match in Yokohama on March 22, 2019. Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP

 

Japan defender Gen Shoji has already endured a bruising experience against one global superstar in Cristiano Ronaldo but hopes that experience will work in his favour when he confronts another in the shape of French World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe on Sunday.

Shoji gets his chance to shut out Mbappe, one of football’s hottest properties, when his Toulouse team take on mighty Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1.

The 26-year-old, who arrived in France in the winter transfer window, came off worse when Ronaldo bagged a hat-trick in a 4-2 win for Real Madrid over Kashima Antlers at the 2016 World Club Cup.

“With my Japanese club, we tried to stop Ronaldo collectively. In France, when we defend, I feel as if the individual duel is more important so I will have to adapt the way I do things against Mbappe and the others,” said Shoji.

“To compare Ronaldo and Mbappe, I will have to have played both of them. I should have a better idea after the game but it will be complicated.”

Shoji, a native of Kobe, left Kashima Antlers — his only previous club — after 11 years and has helped Toulouse to a respectable mid-table place in Ligue 1.

“I wanted to have new experiences,” said Japanese international Shoji who admitted he has had to quickly adapt to a vastly different culture in France.

“You have to get out of your shyness. In Japan, if you are a little reserved someone will come to you; here, if you don’t make the effort, no one will come to you.”

To help him integrate in La Ville Rose (The Pink City), Toulouse have drafted in Japanese compatriot Toru Ota, who has played in the women’s teams at Lyon and PSG.

She interprets for Shoji in the dressing room and translates tactical tips being passed on to the pitch from the bench. A French teacher is also in the process of being hired.

Shoji opted against joining Toulouse after the World Cup last summer because he wanted to help Kashima win the Asian Champions League for the first time.

French Quality

With that ambition achieved in November, Shoji was free to move to France in a three-million-euro deal.

“He learns very quickly. He has been a good purchase,” said Toulouse coach Alain Casanova.

For his part, Shoji believes that from a technical perspective “the Japanese championship is perhaps better” but “Ligue 1 is superior when you add in the speed and physicality”.

“I was very surprised by the quality of French football,” added the 15-time capped international who was left heartbroken by Japan’s World Cup elimination in a 3-2 last-16 loss to Belgium in Russia last summer after they had led 2-0.

“But you will see and I do not know when, maybe it will be after me, but one day, Japan will go very, very far at the World Cup,” he predicted.

In his brief Ligue 1 career, Shoji has endured some sobering experiences — a 5-0 rout at the hands of Lyon was particularly painful.

“In Japan, with Kashima, we won all the time. I have never thought that I have made a bad choice. I don’t have any experience of a team that has these kind of difficulties. It’s important to have this kind of experience.”

Casanova is confident that Shoji will be a success story in France. To help his new recruit, he has even picked up a smattering of Japanese.

“I have mastered the main words — hello and goodbye!”

French New Wave Film Director Agnes Varda Dies At 90

 

French film legend Agnes Varda, the only woman director to emerge from the New Wave scene in the 1960s, has died aged 90, her family said on Friday.

With her two-tone bowl haircut, Varda was seen as the arty, eccentric “grandmother” of French cinema, loved and revered for her startling originality.

“The director and artist Agnes Varda died at her home on the night of Thursday, March 29, of complications from cancer. She was surrounded by her family and friends,” the family said in a statement.

Varda worked right up to the end of her life, with a new autobiographical documentary premiering at the Berlin film festival just last month.

She won an honorary Oscar last November at 89 for her documentary “Faces Places”, which saw her ditch her walking stick for an impromptu celebratory dance with Hollywood star Angelina Jolie.

She made “Faces Places” with the hip young French street artist JR — more than half a century her junior — hopping into a van with him at the wheel to drive around France to shoot interesting people and places they came across.

The pair made an unlikely but endearing double act. With her eyesight failing but imagination undimmed, Varda at one point admits, “Every new person I meet feels like my last one.”

The film took her back to her cinematic roots, with a visit to her reclusive New Wave colleague Jean-Luc Godard, just over the border in Switzerland.

Husband and Wife Team

Varda and her late husband, director Jacques Demy, were one of the New Wave’s great double acts, with her often recording life on set and pitching in on his masterpieces like “The Young Girls of Rochefort”, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “Bay of Angels”.

She made her name in 1962 with her first feature “Cleo de 5 a 7” (Cleo from 5 to 7), about a hypochondriac singer who gets increasingly worried that she has cancer while she is waiting for test results from her doctor.

But it was in her documentaries and films that mixed real-life events with fiction that Varda weaved her very particular brand of gritty poetry.

She won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival and a host of other awards for her 1985 film “Vagabond”, which retraced the life of a homeless woman who was found frozen to death in a ditch.

Her social conscience was also clear in her now classic documentary, “The Gleaners & I” (2000) – about people who comb the fields after the harvest for leftover grain and fruit, and urban gleaners who make a living from junk.

It is on the BBC’s list of the best films made since the turn of the century.

Varda has never hidden her interest in politics, making a series of documentaries in the United States and Cuba as both countries reeled from social and political revolutions, including “Black Panthers” (1968), “Hi Cubans!” (1971) and “Far From Vietnam” (1967).

Born in Belgium in 1928 to a French mother and Greek father whose family had fled Turkey, Varda changed her first name from Arlette to Agnes when she turned 18 and began her career as a photographer.

Her work often crossed over between cinema and art and her own personal story, like her documentary “Uncle Yanco” (1967) about San Francisco hippie artist Jean Varda — a relative of hers.

But some of her most poignant work focused on the three decades she spent with Demy until his untimely death in 1990 – “Jacquot de Nantes” (Jacky from Nantes), “The Beaches of Agnes” and “The World of Jacques Demy”.

Born on May 30, 1928, Varda often used her own life as the framework for her work, which brought her an honorary Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival in 2015 — the first female to win the coveted award.

“Her work and her life are infused with the spirit of freedom, the art of driving back boundaries, a fierce determination and a conviction that brooks no obstacles. Simply put, Varda seems capable of accomplishing everything she wants,” the Cannes festival said at the time.

Frenchman Jailed For Flying Drone In Myanmar

File Photo

 

A French tourist has been sentenced to one month in prison with labour for attempting to fly a drone near Myanmar’s parliament, a court official said Wednesday. 

Arthur Desclaux, 27, was detained on February 7 in the capital and charged under an export-import law which forbids the use of “banned goods” brought in from abroad without obtaining a license.

Myanmar has tight restrictions on drones used in the country, especially around religious and government sites.

Desclaux “confessed” his ignorance about these laws, Judge Sulab Yadanar Oo told the courtroom after the hearing.

“We gave him a light sentence — one-month imprisonment with labour was given to him as he confessed with sincerity that he was guilty,” the judge said.

Speaking outside court after the verdict was delivered, a French embassy official said they were “satisfied that his good faith” was taken into account by the judge in the sentencing.

“That said, a month in prison is still a lot for a simple tourist,” said consul Frederic Inza, adding that the embassy will start making sure tourists know the risks.

“We fear that other people might be in the same situation because the use of drones are becoming more and more common.”

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The harshest sentence for the law could see offenders spending up to three years in prison.

In 2017 journalists Lau Hon Meng from Singapore and Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia were making a documentary for Turkish state broadcaster TRT when they were detained in October 2017 along with Myanmar reporter Aung Naing Soe and driver Hla Tin.

They were flying a drone outside the sprawling parliament complex and confessed to the act thinking that they would receive a fine.

Instead, the four were sentenced to two months in prison under Myanmar’s aircraft act.

French Troops Kill Senior Islamist Militant In Mali

 

 

French forces have killed a top jihadist leader, Yahya Abou El Hamame, in an operation in Mali, Defence Minister Florence Parly said Friday.

The Algerian, a commander in Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), was reputedly responsible for kidnapping a number of Westerners in North and West Africa.

A ministry statement issued in Paris said he was “the mastermind and financier of several attacks”.

El Hamame was killed Thursday when French land and air forces ambushed a column of vehicles he was travelling with north of Timbuktu, Parly said.

He reportedly served as AQIM’s “governor” in Timbuktu when the city was held by Islamist rebels from April 2012 to January 2013.

A number of other “terrorists” were “neutralised”, Parly added.

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El Hamame was believed to be second in command of the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), also known as Nusrat al-Islam, led by Iyad Ag Ghali.

The group was formed by the merger of Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front, Al-Mourabitoun and El Hamame’s Saharan branch of AQIM.

The operation was announced as Parly, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian were due to visit Mali, where some 4,500 French troops have been deployed since 2014 to reconquer the north of the country after it fell to jihadist fighters.

AFP

Apple Reaches Agreement On French Back Taxes

 

Apple has reached an agreement with French authorities over 10 years of back taxes, the US firm told AFP on Tuesday, confirming information published by the French magazine L’Express.

The magazine reported that the firm paid nearly 500 million euros ($570 million) to resolve the case in a confidential settlement reached in December.

“The French tax administration recently concluded a multi-year audit on the company’s French accounts and an adjustment will be published in our public accounts,” Apple told AFP.

The company declined to disclose the amount paid, but a source familiar with the case confirmed to AFP the sum of nearly 500 million euros reported by L’Express.

“We know the important role taxes play in society and we pay our taxes in all the countries where we operate, in complete conformity with laws and practices in force at the local level,” added the company.

French authorities declined to comment citing the confidentiality of tax matters.

According to L’Express, the deal followed several months of talks between Apple and French tax authorities and concerned the small amount of revenue the firm booked in France while the sales it reported in Europe ballooned, thanks in particular to iPhone sales.

L’Express said Apple’s European revenues exploded seven-fold, from 6.6 billion euros in 2008 to 47.7 billion in 2017, and most of it was booked in Ireland where the US firm has its European headquarters.

Ireland has low corporate tax rates that have attracted many multinationals, but there are widespread concerns that firms manipulate accounting rules to escape paying revenues in European countries where taxes are higher.

The French deal with Apple follows one with Amazon, which agreed to pay $252 million (202 million euros) to cover back taxes for the years 2006 to 2010.

The French government is also pushing to impose a tax on digital firms and is expected to unveil legislation later this month that would raise 500 million euros this year.

Indonesia Recaptures French Drug Suspect After Jailbreak

Frenchman Felix Dorfin (R) is under escort after escaping from jail in Mataram on the holiday island of Lombok on February 2, 2019,/ AFP

 

A French drug suspect on the run since escaping from an Indonesian jail nearly two weeks ago has been recaptured, police said on Saturday.

Felix Dorfin — who faces the death penalty if convicted — was found hiding in a forest in North Lombok on Friday night, police said, and was returned to jail in Mataram, capital of the island.

Wearing dishevelled black clothes and looking tired, Dorfin initially tried to bribe officers to let him go.

“He didn’t resist arrest, but wanted to bribe our officers,” North Lombok police chief Herman Suriyono said Saturday, adding he was found following a tip-off from locals in the area.

After being checked by medical teams he was returned to jail.

The 35-year-old Frenchman was arrested in September allegedly carrying a false-bottomed suitcase filled with four kilogrammes (8.8 pounds) of drugs — including cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines — at the airport on the holiday island next to Bali.

On Friday officials said a female police officer had been arrested for allegedly helping Dorfin escape in exchange for Rp 14.5 million (around $1,000).

Jailbreaks are common in Indonesia, where corruption is endemic at all levels of society and inmates often held in squalid and poorly guarded prisons.

In 2017, four foreign inmates tunnelled their way out of Bali’s Kerobokan prison.

Two of them were captured a few days later, but an Australian and Malaysian are still at large.