TV newsreader to stand trial in Lyons on fraud charges

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A MAGISTRATE in Lyons has ordered Michel Noir, the city's mayor, and three others, including France's top television newsreader, to stand trial for corruption.

Philippe Courroye, a magistrate investigating under-the-table payments and illegal election campaign funding, said on Friday that examination of 15 tons of documents had led him to the conclusion that Mr Noir, his son-in-law Pierre Botton, the newsreader Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, a star of the TF1 television channel, as well as Michel Mouillot, the mayor of Cannes, should all go to trial.

The case is the most spectacular in a series affecting conservative French politics over the past few months. In the last years of the Socialist government, voted out of power 18 months ago, a host of cases, mainly for illegal party funding, were opened against the Socialists.

The decision to try Mr Noir is likely to spell the end of a political career for this former Gaullist, now an independent conservative, who once had presidential ambitions. The magistrate accused Mr Noir, 50, in his report, of 'bad faith' and 'insincerity' under questioning. The trial will begin in January.

Mr Noir is charged with receiving embezzled funds to the tune of Fr1.6m ( pounds 195,000) in gifts, such as air tickets, hotel stays and clothes from Mr Botton. Mr Mouillot, 50, a member of the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) party, was accused of accepting Fr626,000 in a fictional salary. Mr Botton owns a villa in Cannes. Both Mr Noir's and Mr Mouillot's town-hall mandates come up for renewal in municipal elections next June.

Mr Poivre d'Arvor, 47, known by his initials 'PPDA', was accused of taking an undeclared holidays and air tickets worth Fr949,000 in return for giving under-the-table help to Mr Botton's business interests. Mr Poivre d'Arvor reads the news for the main evening news bulletins Monday to Friday. There has so far been no word from TF1 on whether he will continue.

Before he announced his conclusions on Mr Noir, Mr Courroye charged Jean-Louis Dutaret, the government-appointed chairman of Sofirad, a public company with interests in several broadcasting companies such as Radio Monte Carlo, with embezzlement. That touched on a case involving Alain Carignon, the Gaullist mayor of Grenoble, who was Communication Minister until he resigned from the government in July after being charged himself.

Mr Dutaret was questioned about the payment of Fr5m by SDEI, a water distribution company, to wipe out debts of Grenoble's Dauphine-News, a local press group supportive of Mr Carignon.