The Bettencourt affair censored by the court of Versailles


The court of appeal at Versailles has ordered Mediapart to remove all quotes from the recordings whose publication transformed the Bettencourt affair into a major public scandal. Three years after Mediapart first revealed the content of these tapes, this decision is more than just an attack on the freedom of information, says editor-in-chief Edwy Plenel: it is an act of censorship.

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So, three judges are after Mediapart's demise. They are called Marie-Gabrielle Magueur, who is the president, Annie Vaissette and Dominique Ponsot, and they sit at Versailles in the first chamber of the court of appeal. In a grotesque decision, as absurd factually as inconsistent legally, they have ordered us to remove from the entire site every extract from the recordings made by the family butler that are at the origin of the Bettencourt affair, and banned us from publishing them in the future. All this to be done in eight days following the official notification of the judgement and, once this deadline has passed, upon pain of receiving fines of 10,000 euro per day, per infringement.

Because of the 894 articles our newspaper has devoted to the Bettencourt affair since June 2010 and the 1,615 Club blogs where our subscribers have commented on them, without counting the numerous videos talking about or quoting the recordings, the scale of potential fines rapidly adds up to hundreds of thousands of euros and, if we are stubborn, millions. With your, the readers, support we have barely ten days to try to prevent a black shroud bearing the word “CENSORED” stopping anyone reading all our articles and all your blog entries on the Bettencourt affair. For while we are obviously going to appeal against this iniquitous judgement, the decision is enforceable immediately.

So you have just over a week to know and learn everything contained on Mediapart (see here for key details and a link to more stories) about an affair that is a monument to the oligarchical practices that are ruining our Republic, while sharing them so that no one in this digital age need be unaware of it. And, one never knows – because it is, practically, the only solution – just over a week for your massive protests to make Liliane Bettencourt, her family, her legal guardian and her lawyers understand that they should abandon enforcing this decision which punishes the very people who, by their revelations, removed Madame Bettencourt from the hands of those who abused her state of weakness.

For this is one of the countless absurdities of a saga that has not been short of them: that it is at Liliane Bettencourt's request that this judgement has been given, joined in the action on this occasion by her former wealth manager Patrice de Maistre. So this is the curious way in which Mediapart is rewarded by the entourage of France's third wealthiest family for its disinterested action in the service of not only the truth but also the protection of an elderly person, the victim of activities which are at the centre of the judicial investigation based in Bordeaux, and whose protagonists have, all of them, since been forced to leave the billionaire's service.

The Bettencourt affair has continually highlighted to us the existence of two justice systems in France. One which accepts the truth, the other which censors it. One which cares about the public interest, the other that looks after the powerful. One which respects whistleblowers, the other which knows only the closed world of insiders. It was on the very day that, at Bordeaux, the former minister and treasurer of the right-wing UMP party Éric Woerth and Patrice de Maistre were sent for trial for “influence peddling”, that Mediapart learnt at Versailles that it must remove all the information that revealed the facts behind this case to the whole of France, facts which were subsequently taken up by the judicial system.

They were not revealed without some difficulty, as this battle for justice at the very heart of the justice system was first fought out at Nanterre, west of Paris, with a prosecutor who laboured for four months to bury the truth. Just as is happening in Bordeaux today with the endless attempts to destabilise and remove the three examining magistrates (Jean-Michel Gentil, Cécile Ramonatxo and Valérie Noël) at the initiative of various protagonists – among them the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, no less – about whom our stories have revealed the self-interested arrangements, interlinked businesses and the disregard they show for the law, including tax laws.

And yet, faced with an absurd decision, coming as it did from the judicial system, must we remove all mention, quote, review and so on of the facts that caused the Bettencourt earthquake three years after their revelation? The same facts that the justice system has picked up and which will, one day soon, be argued out in front of a court? These same secret recordings which have, for a long time, been accepted as material evidence of the offences they deal with following a judgement of January 31st, 2012, by the appeal court the Cour de cassation? Of this audio proof of the state of Madame Bettencourt's weakness and, as a result, of the abuses this could have led to around her?

Recall the storm that broke in the summer of 2010. Without Mediapart's revelations, based precisely on this evidence, there would not have been a committee set up to examine conflicts of interest in public life whose report, which sadly did not have any immediate impact, opened the debate that Parliament has now taken up following another scandal broken by Mediapart, the Cahuzac affair. Nor, without the publicity given by our investigation to this fraud, would tens of millions of euros been handed over to state coffers after the tax adjustment that targeted Madame Bettencourt's offshore assets. Without our series of revelations there would not have been the start of a debate, one that is now national, on the scale of tax evasion and its links with unlawful political funding.

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