France's TV news star hit by scandal

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A WEEK AGO, Patrick Poivre d'Arvor presented the main French evening television news bulletin from Sarajevo. Midweek, his face was on the cover of a popular magazine publicising a book he has written about his anorexic daughter. At the end of the week he was charged with receiving under-the-table gifts in return for services offered to the son-in-law of Michel Noir, the conservative mayor of Lyons.

The charges against Mr Poivre d'Arvor, 45, the main anchorman for the TF1 channel, resulted from the interrogation of Pierre Botton, Mr Noir's son-in-law, who has been in jail since November on fraud charges.

Mr Poivre d'Arvor has been accused of accepting 2m francs' ( pounds 240,000) worth of gifts, in airline tickets, holidays and outings to expensive restaurants. In return, Mr Poivre d'Arvor - known as PPDA to the French public - is said to have helped Mr Botton as a high-profile representative, particularly for Mr Botton's pharmaceuticals distribution company.

PPDA denied any wrongdoing. He said he thought the gifts were personal and he did not know they had been paid for from business accounts. His employers, insisting he was innocent until proven guilty, said he would continue to present the main 8pm evening news, which has the biggest audience of any French television news programme.

The charges against PPDA had been expected for some weeks as he was summoned for questioning on several occasions by a Lyons examining magistrate. During this period, PPDA gave his colleagues at TF1 an unlikely reason for his woes: he was the victim of a campaign by the Elysee presidential palace, which was seeking to discredit him because of his hard- nosed professional style.

The last time his style aroused interest was a year ago. During a visit to Cuba he edited a tape of a press conference given by Fidel Castro and, interposing his own questions, made out it was an exclusive interview. The evident fake earned him a debunking from the rival state second channel.

As the clouds gathered over him, PPDA referred repeatedly to the anorexia of his 17-year-old daughter, blaming it on the pressures upon him. Now he has published a book about her. In 1991 he used France's privacy laws to sue a magazine which published alleged details of his private life.

France is growing hardened to such use of the family. In the autumn, Yves Mourousi, another television journalist and former TF1 newscaster, took photographs of the corpse of his young wife who had just died of meningitis and gave them to several magazines for publication. Mr Mourousi is one of several journalists questioned in the Botton affair.

Last week news of corruption did not concern just the media. There were questions over an interest-free loan of 1m francs given to Pierre Beregovoy, now the Prime Minister, by Roger-Patrice Pelat, who was later accused of inside trading after receiving information about the purchase of an American company by the state-owned Pechiney. Mr Beregovoy said he had repaid the loan on Pelat's death in 1989. Later, however, it transpired that only half the repayment had been recorded. Mr Pelat's son said Mr Beregovoy, a classic Socialist working-man-made-good who started his career as a railwayman, had paid off the rest in antique furniture and books.

In another development, the parliamentary High Court, the only body allowed to try politicians for offences committed in office, said a three-year statute of limitations covered charges in the Aids-contaminated blood case, meaning that Laurent Fabius, a former Socialist Prime Minister, and two of his ministers could not be tried for their responsibility in the distribution of Aids-tainted products to haemophiliacs in 1985.

One of them was Georgina Dufoix, then the Social Affairs Minister, who learned that she may go before the High Court in another case. A magistrate investigating illegal Socialist Party funding wound up his inquiry last week and sent the dossier to the High Court, saying that it alone could rule on whether Mrs Dufoix should be charged.