Tapie Trial Takes Dramatic Turn

Le Zinc d'Honoré

Disappearing Money and Hard Times

Paris:- Saturday, 24. May 1997:- Bernard Tapie, back at the old courthouse in Marseille last Tuesday, decided to tell the court the motive for bribing the way for his team, Olympic Marseilles, to beat Valenciennes on 20. May 1993.

The motive itself is not an issue in this trial, and in fact Mr. Tapie is currently serving an eight month sentence for being convicted on those charges - but at the time of that trial, he kept the motive to himself. The bribe of 500,000 francs was paid for with ticket-sale receipts, for the final of the Coupe d'Europe.

After this non-confession, but with the admission of one of his accusers that Mr. Tapie had not asked him to bribe a referee in a Greek match, Mr. Tapie was stricken with a cardiac problem while being transferred back to jail, and rushed to hospital.

On Thursday he was back in court in Marseille, where the head judge kept an anxious eye on him. Mr. Tapie had a furious argument with the ex-financial director of his football club. Mr. Tapie's lawyer told the judge on Thursday Vespasienne that his client wanted to get on with the trial without delay, but the head of the court decided to request medical advice.

When he seemed to weaken, one of his principal accusers gave him a shot of 'Lenitrol,' but the session was suspended at 15:30 by the court and medical first-aid was called for.

The case resumed on Friday with Mr. Tapie arriving in court with medical assistance on hand in the form of a lady doctor, and he insisted on continuing the trial.

The tone was mild as a Croatian player recounted organizing 'gifts' for the referees, but grew harder when a phony invoice for 700,000 francs was discussed; money apparently destined for Rumanian orphans. This charge set Mr. Tapie off again. The sum was, in fact, 720,000 francs.

Then the Portuguese Mr. Barbosa was back to discuss how he got 700,000 francs for a player that wasn't transferred.

"In cash?" the court asked. "Because it was the weekend," explained Mr. Barbosa. The judge found this hard to believe, but Mr. Barbosa claimed he was quite used to walking around with sacks containing millions; even "In Brazil," he said.

Reports on the trial during the week had more details about Mr. Tapie's waxy complexion than details of evidence and testimony - and that is the reason my round-up of it may be a bit confusing. As a reminder, this trail is about certain bookkeeping methods practiced by Olympic Marseille while Mr. Tapie was owner of the football club.

The trial continues next week, if Mr. Tapie's heart holds out.

Evaporating Money

The people who keep track of coins circulating in France are worried. For the last two years, a lot of coins have been disappearing. So much has disappeared, that the planned coinage of 400 million pieces for 1998 has been raised to 600 million pieces.

It is a serious affair, because the next lot to be minted are supposed to last the country until the Euro pieces really start circulating in 2002.

There are a couple of guesses floating around. People can't be bothered to pick up small change that falls on the floor or ground. I can vouch for this; I have never seen so much money lying around loose as I have in France. It is supposed to be good luck to pick it up, so I do.

The other idea is that if every one of the 60 million visitors who come to France annually takes two or three coins home with them - well, that's up to 180 millions 'disappeared' coins a year.

If you know for certain you didn't come away with some five and twenty centime pieces, then we can blame it on collectors who are trying to get their hands on all they can before it gets pulled from circulation.

Hard Times and Taxes

For the week, Le Parisien has run a series about the financial state of young workers. What I missed was some comparison with what young workers were able to get as a first salary in the late '70's or early '80's - because all I have is my memory to fall back on.

The radio station I use as an alarm clock is France Info and it is really annoying; I mean it wakes me up, with invariably bad news. One of the items they have are announcements of offers from various métro Tuleries in rain branches of the government employment agency.

Imagine this: 'wanted; tri-lingual secretary with at least two years of experience, knowledge of Word and Excel, willing to work long hours, for a six-month contract. Salary: 7,000 francs a month.

Granted that Word and Excel didn't exist in the early '80's; but I remember that being a tri-lingual secretary used to be worth over 10,000 francs a month, on a indefinite contract.

Opposite to the falling income side are the rising taxes. The rate of ordinary income hasn't gone up; but new taxes have been added: the CSG and the RDS, two little obscure percentages that brought the state an extra 21.5 billion francs last year. Rising tax on fuel for cars brought the state another extra 100 billion francs since 1993.

Then there is the biggest bite of all, the TVA; the value-added tax. As Eurotime approaches, France will probably have to lower its rates to bring it into line with its partners, but until then the top rate of 20.6 percent applies to just about everything you buy.

The combination of falling starting wages and rising taxes, is not a happy prospect for young people here. Because of high trees in the rain unemployment, government schemes allow employers to take on young people for fixed periods, and pay them only three-quarters of the minimum wage. At the end of the fixed period they are let go, and new ones are engaged.

Eight months after graduation with a Bac 'Professional,' a young person has only a 50.5 percent chance of getting a job. After five years, this raises to 83.9 percent. Net starting salary for a young man with a Bac 'Professional' is 6,230 francs a month; for a young lady with the same qualification it is only 5,550 francs.

The unemployment rate for young men is 21.1 percent and for young ladies it is nearly 30 percent. In the 16-25 age group there are 380,000 'inactives.' This means they are not in school, in the army, apprenticing, employed, or registered as unemployed.

According the government statistics, the purchasing power of people under 25 has fallen 16 percent in the period from 1984 to 1994. Considering what inflation has done, rising taxes, and the fall of starting salaries; I'd guess that '16 percent' is a modest estimate of decline.

Report from the US

Tuesday's International Herald Tribune had a top-left front page story about how US campuses have been stormed by recruiters this spring, and they are still in action trying to wrap up the hold-outs or the crumbs.

Tuesday's Le Parisien headline told about the 10-year slide of purchasing power, so I read some of their stories in detail. Starkly put, a 21 year-old accounting graduate in the US can get an annual salary of $35,000 and at the same time say that 90 percent of his fellow students got jobs.

A French student with a brand-new 'DEUG' could only say that 71 percent of his classmates got jobs within eight months of leaving school, and starting salary was about 7,000 francs a month. That's about 14,700 dollars a year.

After paying rent and the TVA on everything, that leaves enough pocket money to eat out once a month - unless one feels like setting something aside to pay income taxes. They are not deducted at the source.

Sports News is Suspended

For the duration of the tennis matches at Roland Garros; for the simple reason that these matches always cause the weather to turn excessively gloomy.

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