Ex-mayor dead be­fore wed­ding trial be­gan

The China Post - - LOCAL - BY JAMEY KEATEN

The Tours city project was sim­ple enough: Lure Chi­nese cou­ples to get mar­ried in the heart of the Loire Val­ley — ro­man­tic French cas­tle coun­try — as a way to boost the area’s eco­nomic and cul­tural for­tunes.

It soon went awry. First, the project got bogged down in cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions. Then on Tues­day, the scan­dal took a deadly turn with the ap­par­ent sui­cide of for­mer mayor Jean Ger­main, as he was to go on trial with four other de­fen­dants in a case of al­leged kick­backs and mis­use of public funds.

Tai­wanese Sus­pect

Adding to the drama, an­other key de­fen­dant, Tai­wanese-born Lise Han — who de­vised the plan and worked at City Hall to drum up Asian busi­ness — told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that she had had a se­cret love af­fair with Ger­main. One lawyer in the case said the ex-mayor had al­ways de­nied that claim.

The ap­par­ent sui­cide was likely to cast a pall over the fairy­tale wed- dings of some Chi­nese cou­ples who took up the city’s pitch as a ro­man­tic get­away spot for ty­ing the knot.

France’s body politic was shaken. The Se­nate, where Ger­main had a seat as a So­cial­ist se­na­tor, held a mo­ment of si­lence to honor his mem­ory on Tues­day. Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande ex­pressed his sad­ness, say­ing Ger­main had taken his own life “be­cause he didn’t want his honor sul­lied.”

Min­utes into the trial, Ger­main’s lawyer an­nounced that a col­league had found a sui­cide note. The for­mer mayor’s body was found later in town. The court abruptly ad­journed un­til Oct. 13.

French TV news re­ports showed white- suited foren­sic teams in Tours, and broad­cast ar­chive images of Ger­main giv­ing the tra­di­tional French “bise” cheek-kiss to one bride in an or­nate ball­room filled with dozens of Asian cou­ples.

The trial cen­ters on al­leged kick­backs linked to US$815,000 that Tours spent to lure Asian vis­i­tors be­tween 2008 and 2011, of­fi­cials said. The city splashed out tens of thou­sands of eu­ros on such ex­pen­di­tures as a stand at the Shang­hai World Expo in 2010 and send­ing a del­e­ga­tion of dozens of rep­re­sen­ta­tives to China, one de­fense lawyer said.

Ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the Plot

Ger­main, 67, was fac­ing charges in­clud­ing mis­use of public funds, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, though not of ben­e­fit­ing fi­nan­cially him­self. Han and her as­so­ciates were the main sus­pected ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the plot. As mayor for nearly two decades un­til 2014, Ger­main presided over the wed­dings and spoke pub­licly about the broad me­dia cov­er­age of them.

The city’s ef­fort to lure Chi­nese new­ly­weds ended af­ter the sus­pected wrong­do­ing came to light.

Ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, Han al­leged she had had an amorous re­la­tion­ship with Ger­main. Lawyer Ger­ard Ce­bron de Lisle, who is rep­re­sent­ing the city in its ef­fort to re­coup some of 500,000 eu­ros in es­ti­mated losses, said Ger­main never ad­mit­ted to that claim.

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