A French friend sent me an e mail today.
‘Read the paper! Open a good bottle!’
So I turned up the local rag on line and found the item to which he referred:
L’ex maire de ‘St. Supplice’ definitivement condamne’.
Not, unfortunately, to the guillotine, but to a disqualification from holding public office for three years and a fine of seven thousand five hundred euros, in respect of an illegal use of his powers while maire of his commune.
As it was by then lunchtime I did indeed open a good bottle in celebration.
I had known this man…I bought my first house in France from him.
Well, not exactly from him as he was then disqualified from any financial dealings and everything was in the name of his wife.
The notaire, well oiled in the after lunch appointment to finalise the sale, had been discursive.
The gentleman had been involved in property speculations in the Var and had gone spectacularly bust. I was left with the distinct impression that while going spectacularly bust might have been marginally acceptable, doing so in the department of the Var…in the south of France…put the man beyond the pale.
Rural France, la France Profonde, may not be fond of Paris….but it is definitely agin the south of France.
He – or his wife – had bought a chateau in dire need of repair….the last owners, three maiden ladies known as the ‘six fesses’ – three bare arses – due to their parsimony, had finally given up the struggle to maintain life in the one room which was not dripping with damp and the property speculator had struck.
He had a plan.
By selling off the peripheral properties ( thus my house purchase) he had enough money to finance the initial repairs: he managed to make enough of the chateau habitable to be accepted by social services as a foster parent….and as the money rolled in the chateau was fully repaired – to be fair, he and his wife did a great job with the children they fostered – and he was regarded as a respectable citizen.
Not by me…I had had the benefit of the notaire’s indiscretions.
So much so that, with support from right thinking persons, he became maire of St. Supplice.
But the old Adam of property speculation was strong within him….
As so often in France, the local council owns a number of buildings in the commune.
In St. Supplice, it owned the building used for years as the Post Office…and when La Poste, in its eternal quest to reduce services and increase prices, decided to close down its office the council, with the maire at its head, put the building up for sale.
A value was determined by Les Domaines – a government agency which handles public property – and the game was on.
An offer was received from a Belgian resident of the commune.
The offer was rejected, although over the valuation arrived at by Les Domaines.
The maire authorised the demolition of some of the outbuildings of the Post Office.
An offer was received from a company owned by the son of the maire, whose capital depended on a loan to said company from the old dad.
This offer was under the valuation arrived at by Les Domaines.
It was accepted.
The Belgian gentleman protested.
The maire – on behalf of the council – replied that as the outbuildings had been demolished the value had been reduced and the offer accepted reflected the reality of the situation.
You have to realise, when dealing with anything in France that you have to follow the advice of the White Queen to Alice and practise believing six impossible things before breakfast….otherwise madness lies.
So while you might think that the reduction in value made the Belgian’s offer even more attractive, shifting the goalposts – or the outhouses – allowed the council to assume that it would have to accept a lower offer.
An offer made by the son of the maire.
The Belgian, not having been brought up on Alice, was not impressed.
He sued the council.
And, in particular, the maire.
The maire’s lawyer claimed that the maire had been badly advised.
The court was not impressed. The maire was disqualified from public office for three years and fines seven thousand five hundred euros.
The Belgian claimed consequential loss….the court refused to accept his plea.
The maire appealed.
The regional Court of appeal threw it out.
He appealed again.
The Cour de Cassation (Supreme Court in this instance) threw it out.
Collapse of stout party.
But having had a nap to recover from the good bottle which had been opened I turned the matter over in my mind again.
Yes, the maire had been disqualified for three years…dating from 2013. He’ll be free to stand again from March next year.
Agreed, he has had to cough up seven thousand five hundred euros…but – given that he (or his son) has bought the old Post Office for a song – that is chicken feed.
The Belgian, on the other hand, has been deprived of the power to buy the property.
The commune has been deprived of the extra amount which the Belgian was willing to pay for it.
Another triumph of the French justice system.
That wine begins to taste sour.