Paris publisher `made immigrant a slave'

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The Independent Online
A PROSPEROUS Parisian couple were accused in court yesterday of, in effect, reducing a young, illegal immigrant woman to slavery.

The public prosecutor, Nicolas Blot, asked for one-year prison sentences against Vincent Bardet, son of the founder of a French publishing house, and his wife, Yasmina. The couple were accused of employing Henriette, a Togolose woman in her twenties, for four years without giving her wages or time off.

The case was brought after a neighbour contacted a pressure group called the Committee Against Modern Slavery, which informed the police. Mr Bardet, also a publisher, and his wife protested that Henriette was an au pair. They said they had given her a lump sum and were putting money into a kitty for her, to make sure that she was not cheated. "We were going to give it to her later," Mr Bardet told the court.

His wife said: "There was no formal arrangement [about pay] because we were all in the family. We worked together."

All these claims were disputed by Henriette and the prosecution. She said that she was expected to look after the couple's three children, to do the washing and the housework. She was not allowed to go out without permission, and then usually only to collect the children from school. She slept on a mat in the children's room. She did not receive any wages.

At one point, she ran away to her uncle's home in another part of France, but he brought her back to the Bardets, on condition that they sought residence and work permits for her. Mr Bardet told the court that he had tried to fulfil this promise but gave up because it was "an uphill struggle".

The couple were accused of "subjecting someone to working and living conditions incompatible with human dignity" and "obtaining services without payment".

The public prosecutor said the couple took advantage of the fact that the young woman had no legal right to be in France. "This case is no different from clandestine sweat-shops," he said.

"We are not in the 17th century in a country far away, but at the dawn of the third millennium in the country which invented human rights."

He called for a "dissuasive punishment" of one-year jail sentences, pounds 20,000 fines, and the suspension of voting and other civic rights for both of the accused. The case will now go before three judges for a verdict.