Ex-mayor denies orgy and murder allegations

The former mayor of Toulouse came face-to-face yesterday with a former prostitute who accuses him of being at the centre of a sado-masochistic sex and murder scandal in the early 1990s.

Dominique Baudis, head of France's radio and television watchdog, said after a closed-doors judicial hearing in Toulouse that the accusations against him were a "tissue of lies and contradictions". He added: "I arrived as a free man and left as a free man."

In another twist in a scandal that has shaken France, a convicted serial killer, Patrice Alègre, withdrew a confession in which he admitted killing two prostitutes on the orders of the former mayor.

Two former prostitutes, including "Patricia", who was confronted yesterday by M. Baudis, have told investigators that several Toulouse prostitutes were murdered in the early 1990s to protect senior political, judicial and police figures. They allege that M. Baudis, among others, ordered their deaths to stop them revealing details of sado-masochistic orgies organised for the city's élite.

An examining magistrate has accused the two former prostitutes, Patricia and a transvestite called Fanny, of inventing at least some of their testimony. The two witnesses have been arrested and may be charged with calumny and wasting police time.

But sources close to the investigation have told French newspapers that some of the prostitutes' evidence squares with other known facts and that the wider investigation into allegations of murder and rape will continue. M. Baudis, 56, was a television presenter before becoming centre-right Mayor of Toulouse for 19 years until 2001. He has since been appointed head of the state body that supervises television and radio broadcasts, where he has pushed for pornographic movies to be banned from terrestrial television and double-coded on cable channels.

He says he is the victim of a number of plots, involving a local newspaper, politicians and the pornography industry.

A regional newspaper reported that Alègre had withdrawn a confession made two weeks ago in which he accused M. Baudis of ordering him to kill two prostitutes.

Alègre, 37, was jailed for life last year for murdering five women. He was presented as a random serial killer but recent evidence suggests he was the enforcer for a prostitution gang in Toulouse that organised sado-masochistic parties.

Two former prostitutes have given evidence alleging that Alègre was protected for years by the Establishment in Toulouse. They claim that Establishment figures - including M. Baudis while he was Mayor - took part in sex parties involving cocaine and under-age prostitutes.

President Jacques Chirac said privately that he had "fallen from the cupboard" when he first read the allegations in the press. But public understanding of the affair is confused, at best.

The scandal has been fed by partial and sometimes contradictory leaks from what is supposed to be a secret criminal investigation.

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