Out of France: Dangerous liaison leads to suicide in Paris street tale

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The Independent Online
PARIS - The story has an old-fashioned feel to it, something that Georges Simenon might have written in the post-war years. But it started only a few weeks ago, just after 8pm on 21 July, when Thierry Leger, a horse-racing journalist, was abducted as he returned to his home on the exclusive Avenue Foch.

Three men jumped out of a grey Renault, which, the journalist said, had a flashing blue light and resembled a police car, and handcuffed Mr Leger, 31, who works for the Le Quotidien de Paris newspaper and the Europe 2 radio station. Two of them pushed him into the back seat of his own black Mercedes and drove him across Paris to a car park. The third man followed in the Renault.

'They laid me on the ground and beat me up,' Mr Leger said. 'The two thugs said: 'We're sick of you playing the hero. Mind your own business'. They searched me and took my papers and my cheque- book.'

Then, the third man, who had a Corsican accent, looked at Mr Leger's press card and shouted: 'Damn, he's a hack]' Then, said Mr Leger: 'He pulled my hair back and threatened: 'If you go to the cops, you're dead.' After that they made me sign two cheques, one for 20,000 francs ( pounds 2,200) and another one which was blank.'

They locked Mr Leger in the boot of his car and parked it in a nearby street. He fiddled with the lock until it opened, and contacted the police, who presumed the attackers were thugs posing as police officers.

Five days later, Mathieu Moracchini, 44, a police commissaire - roughly equivalent to inspector - shot himself through the head with his service pistol as he sat in a car outside his police station. Letters to his wife and his superior, making much of the Corsican notion of honour, said he had been 'just a policeman until the day I decided to settle the Leger case . . . I just wanted to teach him a lesson.'

In the best French detective stories, now would be the time to cherchez la femme. And a woman soon came to light: Fathia, a former prostitute on the red-light Rue Saint-Denis. Fathia, who had counted Mr Leger among her customers, had later become Moracchini's mistress. According to Moracchini's colleagues, he believed Mr Leger had robbed her of as much as FF600,000. Other accounts had Fathia complaining of being threatened by Mr Leger, who wanted her to return money.

Mr Leger, saying he had not seen Fathia since September 1989, explained that he once had tried to help her come off the street and had offered to pay the FF120,000 deposit on a flat. When he realised that Fathia was still plying her trade, he withdrew the offer.

The police have arrested another man alleged to have assaulted Mr Leger. He is Mohamed Karaoui, a Tunisian cafe-owner who was one of Moracchini's underworld informers.

Revelations about Mr Leger have also raised eyebrows. After Fathia, he took up with a prostitute called Aline. She, too, claimed to have received an offer to get her off the streets. When this failed, Mr Leger went as far as having badges - depicting a pair of buttocks - made, and leaflets printed attacking her as 'protected by the police'. He caused a minor sensation by distributing them one day in June.

According to press reports, police said they could not understand why Mr Leger made no attempt to cancel the cheques he gave to his attackers.

Since the drama broke with Moracchini's suicide, Mr Leger has been in trouble again. On 29 July, police detained him briefly during another visit to the Rue Saint-Denis because a third prostitute lodged an assault charge against him, alleging he had kicked her in the shin.