Eye on France: Strasbourg Christmas market murder manhunt continues

Security forces search for the Strasbourg killer
Security forces search for the Strasbourg killer REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

We knew it was going to take a major event to push the Yellow Vest crisis off the French front pages on Wednesday. No one could have guessed that it would be such a tragic one.


Wednesday's papers are dominated by the Tuesday evening attack by an apparently lone gunman on the Christmas market in the north-eastern French city of Strasbourg.

The toll is currently three dead and 13 wounded.

Like almost every other detail associated with this tragic case, there has been a lot of confusion. The number of dead was revised down to two on Wednesday morning, only to be revised up again at lunchtime.

That confusion is not difficult to understand.

The man suspected of carrying out the attack is still on the loose. The injured had to be given first aid and then evacuated. The authorities have had to focus on ensuring the safety of the thousands of tourists and residents who were caught in the virtual shutdown of the center of the city last night. The fugitive fired at security forces at least twice as he fled. He is reported to be injured.

A mix of fact, speculation and rumour

The confusion is reflected in the newspapers, with facts, speculation and rumours being sifted as we wait for solid information.

The man the police are reported to be after is well known to the authorities. Although he was on the French terrorist watchlist, his judicial history is a series of common crimes, mostly break-ins and bank robberies, in both Germany and France. He has been punished a total of 27 times by the courts on either side of the Rhine, as well as in Switzerland.

The Paris authorities are being careful not to rush to qualify these killings as a terrorist attack, still less as an islamist one. Until they know more, probably until they get the suspect under lock and key, the police are treating this as a case of multiple murder. But the investigation is being led by the antiterrorist division. And the head of the Paris prosecutor's office had no hesitation in calling this a terrorist act at a lunchtime press conference.

National alert at maximum level

The authorities have raised the level of alert to its maximum, a move normally reserved for the period immediately following an attack or attempted attack. Among the provisions are increased border security, possibly crucial in this case given the closeness of Strasbourg to the frontier with Germany.

Le Figaro reports that a police search of the suspect’s home this morning discovered a stun grenade, a loaded rifle, ammunition and four knives. Several people have been arrested.

A name and a photograph believed to be those of the suspect are circulating on certain news sites, following the release of information a few hours ago by the chief prosecutor here in Paris.

You might remember that in November 2015, after the Paris attacks, the publication of the portrait of Salah Abdeslam added to the confusion, as possibly well-meaning but wrong members of the public spotted the suspect all over France and Belgium, that incorrect information just adding to the police workload.

Penelope Fillon's employer paid over the odds

Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière got off lightly.

Marc, you may remember, was suspected of having paid Penelope Fillon a lot of money for doing nothing at his publishing company.

Penelope is, of course, the wife of the French former prime minister, François Fillon. And the family Fillon is suspected of making a habit of getting paid for not working. Penelope, in her time off from not working at Marc Lacharrière’s magazine, may also have not been working as an assistant to her hubby while he struggled with the rigours of various parliamentary roles. And then she had to rush home and get the dinner ready for the two Fillon children who were, it is further suspected, not working at the French Senate. That’s a heavy schedule! Let’s just hope they got their weekends off!

According to left-leaning daily Libération, a Paris court yesterday condemned Lacharrière to an eight-month suspended jail sentence and a fine of 375,000 euros.

But, and this is crucial, he was not convicted of having fictively employed Missus Fillon. Marc was done for paying her too much. The man’s a billionaire, for God’s sake! He paid 3,900 euros per month for 19 months, during which time the harassed woman managed to produce two book reviews. That’s roughly 35,000 euros per review which, even if you have to read the whole book, is adequate. We can, I think, assume that the reviews were very well done.

Anyway, yesterday, lawyers representing Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière accepted that their client was guilty of excessive generosity, saved him from jail, and added 375,000 euros to the cost of those reviews. At getting on for 200,000 euros apiece, they sound like the sort of thing in which the lads from the Guinness Book of Records might do well to take an interest.

What’s important is that the other Fillon family cases of alleged fictive employment are in no way prejudiced by yesterday’s verdict. The former prime minister, his wife and kids, should find out early next year if they are to face criminal investigation in the other cases where they allegedly got, or gave, money for nothing.

New twist in Carlos Ghosn saga

No review of the French prints would be complete without a mention of Carlos Ghosn, the former boss of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi motor empire, currently in jail in Japan accused of having underestimated his personal income in company accounts by something of the order of 70 million euros, give or take the odd yen.

He’s now into his second 22-day incarceration for questioning after a Tokyo court hit him with new charges earlier this week.

Carlos continues to proclaim his complete innocence.

The latest twist is that the Nissan motor company is itself now suspected on similar charges, since the company published the accounts in which Carlos’s sharply reduced salary appeared and could reasonably have been expected to notice a nine-billion yen oversight.

The irony is that Hiroto Saikawa, the man suspected of having blown the whistle on Carlos Ghosn and who has since taken over the boss’s seat at Nissan, could now find himself in deep legal waters.

Which news might hearten poor old Carlos, currently reduced to reading crime novels in his prison cell.

Less cheerful is the fact, reported by Libération, that, if Carlos Ghosn is eventually arraigned, he might need a new pile of crime novels. Ninety-nine percent of those who appear before the Japanese courts are found guilty.

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