Fugitive ex-mayor of Nice faces forced return to French prison

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PARIS - Jacques Medecin, the former mayor of Nice who fled to exile in Uruguay to avoid fraud charges four years ago, is expected to return to France by the end of this month after his appeal against extradition failed this week, writes Julian Nundy.

Mr Medecin, 65, who flew to Punta del Este in September 1990 with his American wife and daughter, is wanted in France on fraud, bribe-taking and tax-evasion charges.

Already facing a one-year jail sentence handed down in absentia, Mr Medecin, who ran Nice for 25 years after taking over from his father who was first elected mayor in 1928, will be taken to prison in Grenoble rather than to his home town 'for reasons of public order', police said.

The return of Mr Medecin is expected by the end of this month, judicial sources said. Mr Medecin, constantly an embarrassment to the French right wing, switched from the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) to the Gaullists, then to the small, right-wing National Centre of Independents. He threatened to make the jump to the far-right National Front while he was mayor.

Although France and Uruguay have no extradition treaty, the Uruguayan authorities detained Mr Medecin a year ago, in response to two international arrest warrants.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Justice of Uruguay rejected his appeal against deportation. His lawyers said he would make a last plea to international human rights organisations.

Mr Medecin's return to France, where he may attempt to stand again for Nice's municipal elections next June, will provide a colourful climax to the series of corruption scandals that is rocking French politics. Mr Medecin is still much loved in Nice, despite evidence of widespread fraud.

Over the past four years, he has remained in touch with Nice politics, advising his fellow Nicois on voting in elections and commenting on the competence of his successors. At first, he managed this from prison. Just after his arrest in October 1993, he was allowed to order meals from outside caterers and had the use of a cellular telephone.

After the magistrate in charge of his case received threats, Mr Medecin was moved to a Montevideo jail and his privileges ceased.

In another corruption affair that has directly affected the government this autumn, it emerged yesterday that Gerard Longuet, a UDF leader who resigned as industry minister on 14 October, is likely to be charged on two counts next week.

The state prosecutor's office has asked the Justice Ministry, in a 25-page report obtained by the popular daily newspaper Le Parisien yesterday, to charge the former minister with both personal fraud, connected with work done on his Saint Tropez holiday villa, and with illicit funding for his Republican Party, one of the parties in the UDF.