Top TV presenter's corruption plea fails

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Paris - France's best known television presenter, Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, was suspended from work until 28 March yesterday after losing a court appeal against a conviction for corruption, writes Mary Dejevsky. The sanction, which falls short of dismissal but takes Mr Poivre d'Arvor, 48, off the screens indefinitely, was announced yesterday by his employer, French television's first channel, TF1.

The presenter, known universally as "PPDA" and honoured with a puppet in his image that anchors les Guignols, the French equivalent of Spitting Image, was convicted of receiving gifts of expensive suits, air tickets and foreign holidays from the election agent of Michel Noir, the former mayor of Lyons. In April he was found guilty and given a 15-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 200,000 francs (pounds 27,000) - a sentence upheld at appeal on Wednesday.

The two main figures in the case, Noir and his son-in-law and agent, Pierre Botton, both had their sentences increased at appeal: Noir from 15 months to 18 months imprisonment (suspended), and Botton from four to five years in prison. Noir, a Gaullist, also has been banned from holding political office for five years, which effectively ends what had been a glittering political career. Both he and Botton are now under investigation again in connection with allegations about illegal Swiss bank accounts.

But it is the fate of PPDA that has caught the public imagination and made his suspension inevitable. He did not help his case by the arguments he had used in his defence - that the value of the gifts was much lower than alleged, that accepting gifts was the norm in the French media world, and that they had not influenced his reporting.

TF1, which was widely criticised for keeping PPDA on after his initial conviction, decided to take him off the rotas for the whole week of the appeal verdict. This reportedly led to angry scenes in the newsroom when he learnt that he would not be presenting the special programmes marking Francois Mitterrand's death.