Mme Chirac lends Hallyday a hand for fast-track adoption Vietnamese baby

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The Independent Online

Two weeks ago, she was an abandoned three-month-old baby in an orphanage in one of the poorest regions of Vietnam. Now, Jade Smet, or Jade Hallyday as she will inevitably be known, is on the front page of French celebrity magazines in a Christian Dior baby suit.

Two weeks ago, she was an abandoned three-month-old baby in an orphanage in one of the poorest regions of Vietnam. Now, Jade Smet, or Jade Hallyday as she will inevitably be known, is on the front page of French celebrity magazines in a Christian Dior baby suit.

A star is born. Or rather, a star is adopted.

At 61, Johnny Hallyday, France's everlasting rock star, has just become a father for the third time. He and his wife, Laeticia, have adopted a foreign baby, just as 4,000 other French couples did last year.

Unlike many other couples, however, they have not had to wait several years for their child. Controversy has erupted over allegations that Bernadette Chirac, wife of the President, intervened with the Vietnamese authorities to fast-track the adoption of Jade while on a state visit to Hanoi with Jacques Chirac in October.

Johnny Hallyday (real name Jean-Philippe Smet), although vilified in his youth as a pernicious, American-influenced corrupter of French youth, has long been regarded as a national treasure (" notre rocker national"). He is a personal friend of the Chiracs.

The investigative and satirical newspaper Le Canard Encahiné reported this month that Mme Chirac smoothed the path for the adoption. She reportedly asked Vietnamese officials: "Have you ever heard of Johnny Hallyday?" and said the Hallydays were among 350 French couples waiting to adopt Vietnamese babies.

Within six weeks, the Hallydays collected Jade from the Thanh Ba orphanage in the province of Phu Tho, a poor area 40 miles north-west of Hanoi.

Other couples, who have been trying for years to find their way through the - frequently justified - protections and bureaucracy surrounding foreign adoptions, have cried foul. They point out that a 61-year-old man with two grown-up children from previous marriages would not, ordinarily, be considered a suitable adoptive father.

One would-be father has been on hunger strike for several weeks, protesting at the blocking by Paris of his almost finalised adoption of a Cambodian baby. Last year, France suspended all adoptions from Cambodia after allegations of trafficking in stolen children.

The hunger striker, Christian Roux, from near Nîmes, wrote to President Chirac saying: "Bernadette Chirac helped Johnny Hallyday and Laeticia to adopt a child in Vietnam. Why not us?" The controversy has been fuelled by the success of Holy Lola, a film by the French director Bertrand Tavernier which tells - in mock-documentary style - of the desperate efforts of a French couple to adopt a Cambodian baby

In reply, the Hallydays have allowed photographers from two glossy magazines, Gala and VSD, to take pictures of them with Jade in chic baby outfits. The picture on the front of Gala shows a puzzled-looking Jade wearing a baby suit with the word Dior on it.

In an accompanying interview with VSD, the Hallydays reject in part the allegations that they were given preferential treatment. Laeticia said that she had gone through the usual nine months of checks by French social services, including five home visits to ensure that the baby was going to a suitable home.

"They even asked us if we had thought things through," Mme Hallyday said. "How could they ask such a question when they know I've been trying to have a baby for nine years?"

The celebrity couple also pointed out that Mme Chirac had raised the case of all 350 French couples waiting to be allocated Vietnamese orphans, not just their own. M. Hallyday told VSD: "She may have speeded things up for us but those other, unknown families will also benefit from her stepping on the accelerator."

The controversy has also brought a promise from the Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, that the case of the hunger-striking father and 11 other couples whose Cambodian adoptions were cancelled by Paris at the last moment will be urgently reviewed.

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