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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 July, 2003, 22:39 GMT 23:39 UK
'Orgy' scandal shakes French trust

By Caroline Wyatt
BBC Paris correspondent

For the past two months, France has been gripped by a sordid tale of sado-masochistic sex, drugs and murder in the southern city of Toulouse.

Dominique Baudis
Mr Baudis cleared his name by "looking the accuser in the face"
The allegations are that senior city officials not only covered up for a jailed serial killer, Patrice Alegre, but that they even ordered some of his killings to protect themselves from blackmail after they attended his sado-masochistic orgies.

But in the latest twist, one of those officials has cleared his name by confronting his accusers in court.

The whole affair began in 1997, when a special homicide squad started to investigate the unexplained disappearance of 115 women and girls in the Toulouse region dating back to 1992.

As a result of the investigation, serial killer Patrice Alegre was jailed for life in February 2002, on six charges of rape and five murders.

I looked my accuser in the face and she couldn't return my gaze
Dominique Baudis

But this summer - from his prison cell - he began to respond to new allegations made by two former Toulouse prostitutes, known as Fanny and Patricia, in the ongoing investigations into other unsolved murders.

On French TV, Patricia's voice and appearance were heavily disguised as she repeated her testimony to police.

She claimed that magistrates and senior politicians in Toulouse had attended sado-masochistic orgies partly organised by Alegre in a council-owned chateau.

Patricia also alleged that she and Fanny had witnessed Patrice Alegre kill another two prostitutes.

He in turn, in a letter to a French TV programme, confessed to the killings but claimed they were ordered by town officials to cover up their attendance at the orgies.

Even more bizarrely, Patricia and Alegre implied that the French head of broadcasting standards and anti-pornography campaigner, Dominique Baudis, was involved in their sex ring while mayor of Toulouse.

Look in the face

It is a claim he has vigorously denied all along, saying that the pornography industry was trying to take its revenge by blackening his name.

So Mr Baudis demanded to go to court to confront Patricia face to face before a judge, and see if she could repeat the allegations while looking him in the eye.

Patrice Alegre
Alegre worked in a police canteen
She could not, and he emerged from court with his name cleared.

"The accusations made against me are nothing but lies," he told the media as he emerged from court. "I looked my accuser in the face and she couldn't return my gaze. My accuser came escorted by two gendarmes, and she is leaving with two gendarmes. I came here as a free man, and I am leaving as a free man."

Patricia may now go on trial for perjury for the allegations against Mr Baudis, who swore to continue the fight against those who had wrongly accused him.

He also blamed the local Toulouse newspaper, La Depeche du Midi, for stirring up trouble.

Yet the newspaper defends its revelations against other top Toulouse officials.

He was a good mayor and a he's a good man. He never did those things he was accused of, the sexual things - not in Toulouse
Student in Toulouse
One judge was removed from the case, while it emerged that another had gone drinking with the serial killer, who is the son of a local policeman and used to work in the police canteen.

The Toulouse police have also been accused of a cover-up.

They classified some of the serial killer's murders of local prostitutes as suicide, despite compelling evidence to the contrary.

La Depeche du Midi's editor Jean-Christof Giesbert says the town's authorities have hardly covered themselves in glory.

"We want to know why it seems that the investigation has stopped or got no further. There are still many people to be questioned by the judges, but that isn't happening - why not? We get the impression the authorities are keen to let it drop."

Split public

In the cafes of Toulouse, the scandal has split public opinion.

One young student is convinced that Dominique Baudis was the victim of a conspiracy against him.

"He was a good mayor and a he's a good man. He never did those things he was accused of, the sexual things - not in Toulouse."

But others believe that the local authorities did fail in the Alegre case, catching him too late, and they do suspect that there may have been strange goings-on at council properties, which still have not been properly explained.

We get the impression the authorities are keen to let it drop
Jean-Christof Giesbert
Editor, La Depeche du Midi
"I think most people here are disgusted by the system, and many of us believe we may never know the full truth of what happened at all," says one young woman from Toulouse.

For most of France, the story has been little more than titillation over morning coffee. But for the people of Toulouse, the revelations have shaken their faith in their politicians, police and the justice system.

Whatever revelations are still to come, that damage will take a long time to repair.

France fixated on 'orgy' scandal
06 Jun 03  |  Europe
French 'orgy' storm grows
02 Jun 03  |  Europe


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