'Gotcha' of the Week

photo: bistro le conti

A less-than-totally intellectual bistro in the Quartier Latin.

Paris Socialists On a Roll

Paris:- Sunday, 4. February 2001:- Last Friday, police in Manila arrested Alfred Sirven, a man who French authorities have been trying to lay their lands on for the past three years.

Although the Philippines has no extradition treaty with France, the three or four international arrest warrants helped the Philippine government give the go-ahead to allow Mr. Sirven to be swiftly placed on a Luthansa flight, which departed for Frankfurt on Saturday.

While the French press went into a tizzy of expectation over Mr. Sirven's imminent arrival in Paris, and a cell was tidied up for him at the Santé - nobody thought to think much about the implications of the prisoner landing in Frankfurt.

Upon arrival, German police took over and locked Mr. Sirven up in a very secure prison - instead of immediately placing him on an Air France flight to Paris.

This brought the French press to a jolting halt. There is a trial taking place in Paris at the moment, and Alfred Sirven's testimony is urgently needed - although the trial has been proceeding without his aid - or any prospect of any - for a couple of weeks already.

It just so happens that the same Alfred Sirven is also wanted for questioning in Germany - about a deal for a run-down oilphoto: soutien aux artistes refinery at Leuna in ex-East Germany, and a possible 75 million DM payoff, that may have gone into the CDU political party's coffers.

'Support for artists' - catch-all coin receptacle in the Rivoli 'art squat' entry.

However, he has opted for the fast extradition procedure instead of digging in his heels, and he should arrive in Paris soon - unless a German parliamentary commission investigating illegal party funding can get their hands on him first.

Probably the only people ready to greet him with open arms are the judges and prosecutors running the current trial of Roland Dumas, ex-Foreign Minister and ex-head of France's Constitutional Council.

This had been preceding sedately enough until last Wednesday, when the super 'big hat' lost his cools in court, and as the papers put it, 'menaced' unnamed magistrates - actually the ones who were asking him embarrassing questions in court.

These involve some extravagant purchases made by his former girl-friend, Christine Deviers-Joncour, who is also on trial - apparently for being paid a huge salary and gigantic commissions by the oil company, Elf, while apparently doing no work for the firm.

This is where Alfred Sirven comes in. He was one of the head bosses at Elf, who possibly arranged for the buying and selling of oil-rich countries in Africa, selling frigates to Taiwan, buying the broken-down Leuna refinery in ex-East Germany, and so on and so on.

Alfred Sirven, in short, is supposed to be the guy who knows everything, as well as being the guy who ordered everything done.

For example, investigations have suggested that Elf paid Christine Deviers-Joncour 17 million francs to buy an apartment in the Rue de Lille, as a sort of a cozy pad of 320 square metres, for entertaining her boyfriend, the Foreign Minister.

The other sums mentioned in the combination of affairs are quite a bit larger - hundreds of millions. The implications are that the state oil company sought to influence the state's Foreign Minister - but this is probably only the small tip of a very large iceberg.

For example, it the same oil company that is implicated in the charges against Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, who supposedly assisted a couple of arms dealers with shipments of arms to Africa, involving a total of 5.2 billion francs.

In this case, the current Minister of Defense, Alain Richard, has now given the green light for prosecutors to proceed with their case for arms dealing between countries which are not France.

Scooping up Alfred Sirven at this point in the time of these trials and ongoing investigations might be pure co-incidence. There must be considerable joy in the magistrates' inner chambers.

In any case, torture is not an allowed investigative procedure in Europe, so it is possible that the key man may have very little to say that can turn suspicions into proof.

But reluctance for self-incrimination is generally regarded by courts as uncooperative, if not an actual confession of guilt. For cooperation, France has no official witness protection program either.

Given the sums involved, there are probably a lot of people not yet heard from - many of whom are now probably wishing that Alfred Sirven had stayed 'unfindable' in the Philippines, forever.

Jackpot

The French oil company that used to be known simply as 'Elf' has gone on to bigger things, including a bigger name - 'TotalFinaElf.'

Regardless of what the company is doing in Africa these days, it has made a proper killing in the oil biz, by taking advantage of the alleged worldwide oil shortage that boosted crude prices.

Last year, the company posted a profit of 50 billion francs, up a whopping 127 percent over 1999's good results. Total turnover was up only by 55 percent, which, when you think of it, is not too shabby.

Counting Chickens

Paris' municipal elections are a little more than a month off and a variety of opinion polls all point to a substantial lead by the challenging candidates of the Socialist Party, led by long-time deputy-mayor Bertrand Delanoë.

These same polls are causing an unexpected problem. The regime that has been 'in' has been in there for a quarter-century, and some Delanoë supporters are over-anticipating the spoils of victory - such as who will get appointed to which key posts.

For Bertrand Delanoë and his campaign manager, this is dangerously premature. Although he is discussing future positions, the word is out that they will not be for blabbermouths.

Meanwhile, in the right's camp, the opinion of their oracle - and candidate in the 8th - is that Philippe Séguin's is not very 'festive.' This is as it should be for a workingphoto: election poster collage professor, but his words sometimes go over the heads of his audiences.

In contrast, according to the same oracle, Bertrand Delanoë is too 'festive' which is a fault more serious than being 'not very.'

Unofficial election campaign posters are already up, and already defaced.

It is possible that Bertrand Delanoë is really the right degree of 'festive' because he is a seasoned city hall man, he belongs to the right party - the one that runs the national government - and he has active support from some of its heavy hitters.

Meanwhile, on the right, there are two camps. The one led by Philippe Séguin is a temporary patchwork of three major centrist-right-wing parties, and this group is closest to Delanoë's socialists in the polls - although not very close.

The other right-wing group revolves around the current mayor, Jean Tiberi, who has been ousted from the right's main-stream for lese-majesty. His seasoned crew of long-standing cohorts - known as the 'families' - are putting on brave faces.

If this group decided to join the main rightist group, Delanoë's socialists might have a close run of it, but the city's Greens are only a couple of poll points behind Tiberi's faction, and they would likely throw their weight into Delanoë's camp - like the arrangement they have with the socialists nationally.

Euro Dining Tip

If you are fastidious about what you eat and fear that eating beef in France - or anywhere in Europe - may expose you to 'mad cow' disease, be aware that there a plenty of substitutes for beef.

One of these, of course, is the fishburger. It is well-known by all that many fish come from the sea, which covers such a large part of the planet that it is impossible to pollute completely.

Although fast-food outlets in Paris do not explicitly claim that the fish they use in their 'fishburgers' arephoto: art squat elevator actually from any of the planet's seas, they are having a good success with the product.

The other ingredients of 'fishburgers' are harder to identify. There is usually a whitish sauce, sometimes referred to as 'tartare,' and occasionally some sort of green substance, plus a bread-like top and bottom that are supposed to resemble bread, but neither look or taste like it.

The Rivoli 'art squat's' installation that looks somewhat like an elevator.

The fast-food chains are also experimenting with 'chicken burgers' - another oxymoron - 'egg burgers,' and various concoctions containing cheese - as in 'cheese sandwich,' which used to be a common staple of neighborhood cafes.

All of these efforts are wasted on the numerous fatalists, who honestly consider that everything is polluted and has been for some time - and an industrial cheeseburger containing a rubberized patty of 'beef' or two cannot cause more harm than has already been done.

If all of this leaves you less than hungry, horsemeat has broken out its 20-year-old doldrums and is finding eager buyers again.

The figures for the last two months available are plus 32 percent for November and plus 59 percent for December. But even with these impressive percentages, the sale of horsemeat only represents about three percent of all meat sold in France.

The demand has risen so much that hypermarchés have resorted to importing horsemeat from Uruguay, Argentina and the United States.

Next 'Strike of the Week?'

The one and a half unions that staged last week's successful transport strike in Paris, have succeeded in creating enough envy by other transport unions - that there are rumors of a re-play this coming Thursday. This time they will be going for total 'total.'

Winter Sports News

As of today, 'winter' is 46 days old. It may be a bit more tired and even more slushy, but if you are interested in the state of snow at French winter sports stations, try hitting the Hiver,SkiFrance and Net4Ski Web sites.

The ex-ski champion Edgar Grospiron has an exceptional site, called Ridearth. Especially conceived for actual fans or practitioners of speedy downhills, it features all sorts of current white snow activities, including morsels of techno-ski music.

Web Life:

Chickening Out of Mobile Internet

Just over a week ago, the US Government auctioned off 422 licenses to operate second-generation mobile telephone services, for a total of $17 billion. If this amount is divided by bandwidth - MHz - its result is $4.07 per MHz.

The European council decided in late 1998 that the introduction of third-generation mobile telephone services - UMTS - should be coordinated and progressive - with all licenses to be awarded by 1. January 2002.

Six European countries opted for simple auctions and seven others opted for 'best' proposals and set fixed prices.

In April of 2000, four licenses were auctioned in Britain for a total of 38.5 billion euros, and an auction yielded 50.8 billion euros for Germany. Spain's sale of four licenses netted it 516.8 million euros last year.

Germany's auction resulted in a price almost identical to the recent US price per MHz, showing that there is some trans-Atlantic agreement about the potential of these extended mobile services.

In France the Finance Ministry fixed a price of a little less than five billion euros per license. Deutsche Telekomphoto: champs elysees friday dropped out of the French competition in November, the Suez-Lyonnaise-Telefonica consortium quit in January and Bouygues threw in the sponge on Tuesday, 30. January.

In Paris this winter, every sunny Thursday is followed by a Friday like this one.

This has left only two successful candidates for the four licenses on offer - the France Télécom-Orange-Itinéris group and Cegetel-SFR. The government had earmarked the license fees for financing a part of the national retirement fund, which will now be short by 10 billion euros.

The new European UMTS standard is still in development, while the US standard is ready to go tomorrow. Even if French operators fear the development costs, it doesn't explain the devil-may-care attitude of Britain and Germany - unless they are having second thoughts after their daring plunges of last spring when the telecoms world was a rosier place.

Your Paris Web URLs

If you have any favorite Paris Web sites you think other readers should know about, please send them in. If they haven't been featured before and they don't crash my browser, you'll get a modest 'thankyou' here.

The 'Official' Weather: 100% 'Winter'

Météo France is the official source for France's TV-weather people - if you don't get French TV where you are, you can get the weather from where they get it. Because it is 'official' - meaning: as true as possible - don't expect forecasts to exceed 24 hours even though TV here sometimes goes out on a limb with imaginative seven-day forecasts.

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