Former mayor of Nice arrested in Uruguay

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PARIS - Jacques Medecin, the fugitive former mayor of Nice, has been arrested in Uruguay where he took refuge three years ago, writes Julian Nundy.

The Nice prosecutor's office said yesterday that Uruguayan police, who detained Mr Medecin at his Punta del Este villa on Thursday, were acting under an international arrest warrant issued earlier this month. Mr Medecin, 65, who has already been sentenced in absentia to one year in prison, faces charges of tax fraud and bribe-taking in France.

While France and Uruguay do not have an extradition treaty - an evident factor in Mr Medecin's choice of exile - Luis Alberto Lacalle, the Uruguayan President, said recently his country could not give Mr Medecin asylum since charges against him were criminal and not political. According to reports in the French press, Mr Medecin he can be held for up to three months in preventive detention in Uruguay while the authorities decide what action to take.

Mr Medecin fled France for Latin America in September 1990 with his Californian wife and daughter on first-class tickets paid for by an agency owned by the Nice city council. He became mayor of Nice in 1966, taking over the post from his father, Jean, who had been mayor of the city since 1928.

If Uruguay decides to return him to France to face charges, the case will cause a sensation in Nice where Mr Medecin - whose name has become a byword for political corruption in most of France - is still popular.

In election campaigns since he left the country, Mr Medecin has made his choice of candidate known, sometimes recording video messages explaining his preference. Last year he backed Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the far right National Front, in regional elections.

A former junior minister for tourism during the presidency of Valery Giscard d'Estaing in the 1970s, Mr Medecin has given frequent interviews to the French media since he moved to Punta del Este. He told a French radio station last week that the decision to issue an arrest warrant against him was 'a non-event'.