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Authors: Oscar Reynard

A Clean Pair of Hands

BOOK: A Clean Pair of Hands
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A Clean Pair of Hands

Oscar Reynard

This book is dedicated to Thérèse; today an unrecognised character, who by her lucidity, romanticism and cool, logical observation, overcame the difficulties of putting sometimes passionate events into words.

Index
  1. Title Page
  2. Dedication
  3. Foreword
  4. 1998 Chapter One, A mysterious break-in
  5. 1950s – 1970s Chapter Two, My money is me
  6. 1980s Chapter Three, The cash machine
  7. Chapter Four, A closer view
  8. Chapter Five, Power, sex and money
  9. Chapter Six, Changing values
  10. Chapter Seven, Michel’s philosophy
  11. 1990 Chapter Eight, The pleasure quest
  12. Chapter Nine, Take a profit
  13. 2000 Chapter Ten, The challenges of work
  14. Chapter Eleven, Friends and contacts
  15. Chapter Twelve, Daddy’s girl
  16. Chapter Thirteen, Meet the wider family
  17. Chapter Fourteen, The way it works
  18. Chapter Fifteen, Sandrine’s undoing
  19. Chapter Sixteen, An employment law virtuoso
  20. Chapter Seventeen, Charlotte’s initiation
  21. Chapter Eighteen, A brush with evil
  22. Chapter Nineteen, The threat remains
  23. Chapter Twenty, To the lion’s den
  24. Chapter Twenty One, Exposure and consequences
  25. Chapter Twenty Two, My way
  26. Chapter Twenty Three, The trouble with office machines
  27. 2002 Chapter Twenty Four, The dream
  28. Chapter Twenty Five, An incriminating connection
  29. 2009 Chapter Twenty Six, Tropical paradise
  30. 2010 Chapter Twenty Seven, Natural disaster
  31. Chapter Twenty Eight, Feminism
  32. Chapter Twenty Nine, A caring father
  33. Chapter Thirty, History being history
  34. Chapter Thirty One, Which woman?
  35. Chapter Thirty Two, The fur-lined trap
  36. 2012 Chapter Thirty Three, Disappearing trick
  37. Chapter Thirty Four, The quest for facts
  38. Chapter Thirty Five, Investigation
  39. Chapter Thirty Six, Life goes on
  40. 2014 Chapter Thirty Seven, Tireless persistence
  41. Epilogue
  42. Acknowledgements
  43. Copyright

‘Every man has two countries, his own and France’

Thomas Jefferson

France is the most visited tourist destination in the world, with over 79 million arrivals in 2011. Those tourists expect to enjoy a closer view and sample a country known the world over for its gastronomy, sophisticated Paris fashions and luxury goods, adult fun, quaint rustic communities living in golden stone medieval villages, Provence under sunny skies, chateaux proudly proclaiming an illustrious past, art in all its forms, the Tour de France and occasional accordion music.

France is a meeting point for northern and southern European cultures and this is evident in the ongoing confrontation between the population and authority, a fight that takes the form of brazenly challenging rules and boundaries, and by high levels of assertiveness when working around any obstacles that confront people in their daily lives. What is it like to live and work there?

What most tourists may not appreciate is the deep-rooted distrust that the French have towards their government and authorities, which explains their individualistic
reaction to rules and constraints imposed by their leadership.

What lies behind this distrust? Probity in public life is low on the French achievements list, for although successive governments proclaim themselves to be ‘open and transparently democratic’, this is far from the truth. According to the Transparency International Corruption Index for 2013, France has improved significantly since the Mitterrand era but is still only ranked 22nd in the world. Before anybody thinks this is merely a finger pointing exercise, the USA is 19th, and Great Britain 14th.

We all have a long way to go, but Denmark and New Zealand, 1st equal, show that reasonable levels of probity in public life can be achieved, despite human weaknesses. In a modern society, social networks and hacking make it increasingly harder to keep dirty secrets and as knowledge of corruption in public life trickles down to every individual, one could assume that if it is known about and tolerated, it must be OK. But how does that situation affect public attitudes? What can the electorate do to re-orientate their leaders?

A French song lyric by Jacques Dutronc derisively articulates the irony:

Madame L’Existence

Je voudrais m’acheter une démocratie

Je voudrais m’acheter le meilleur d’une vie

Je voudrais m’acheter de la liberté

Et puis un peu de fraternité.

On n’a pas ce genre d’articles

Vous vous trompez de boutique

Ici c’est pas la république.’ [Sic]

French singer/songwriter Jacques Dutronc 2003

TRANSLATION:

‘Lady Life

I’d like to buy myself a democracy

I’d like to buy the best of life

I’d like to buy some liberty

And then a bit of fraternity.

But we don’t have those kinds of things in stock

You are in the wrong shop

This is not the republic.’

This novel recounts how a driven man carves out his individual lifestyle in France, with potentially dramatic consequences for himself, his wife and family. For individuals, families and presidents who steer dangerously close to an edge where they may lose control, those consequences are not always direct or immediate. They can strike suddenly and unexpectedly or, in many cases, retrospectively.

For readers to understand why the characters behave the way they do, we can refer to public life revelations that are now crawling to the surface of our news media and see what’s considered normal and acceptable in France and when a social or moral line is deemed to have been crossed. Let’s take a look at some examples of behaviour of the French leadership, and ask how you might react when those in authority so brazenly treat public money as their own and are prepared to bend rules to grasp and retain power. Based on the evidence, how should we describe the French governing class for the last thirty years?

A KLEPTOCRACY?

Kleptocracies are generally associated with corrupt forms of authoritarian governments. Kleptocratic rulers typically treat their country’s
treasury as though it were their own personal bank account, spending the funds as they see fit, and also secretly transferring public funds into personal bank accounts in foreign countries in order to provide them with continued luxury if/when they are eventually removed from power and forced to leave the country.

Source: Wikipedia

 

It was
Ambrose Bierce
, in his Devil’s Dictionary, who called an election, ‘…
an advance auction of stolen goods.’

 

‘On 10th May 1981 François Mitterrand was elected President of France. He and his socialist entourage proved to be one of the most corrupt regimes in several generations. A foreigner might marvel at the indifference of the French electorate and powerlessness of the judiciary faced with systematic abuse of power on a massive scale at municipal and central government level, the fraudulent use of public money and its diversion into the accounts of individuals and phoney companies created uniquely for the redistribution of wealth towards party funds, the president’s personal purse, and those he wanted to keep in his service. A similar pattern of cash collection was networked throughout the municipal centres of France, channelling money to the centre via bogus companies set up for that purpose.’

Source: Jean Montaldo, ‘Mitterrand and the Forty Thieves’, Published by Albin Michel, 1994

URBA

‘The Urba consultancy was established in 1971 by the French Socialist Party to advise Socialist-led communes on infrastructure projects and public works. The Urba affair became public in 1989 when two police officers investigating the Marseille regional office of Urba discovered detailed minutes of the organisation’s contracts and division of proceeds between the party and elected officials. Although the minutes proved a direct link between Urba and graft activity,
an edict from the office of President Mitterrand, himself listed as a recipient, prevented further investigation. In 1990 Mitterrand declared an amnesty for those under investigation, thus ending the affair. However, Socialist Party treasurer Henri Emmanuelli was tried in 1997 for corruption offences, for which he received a two year suspended sentence.’

The two investigating police officers were forced into retirement.

Source: Wikipedia

 

Author’s note: This method of raising money continued unimpeded and indeed amplified under Jacques Chirac, and ex-president Nicholas Sarkozy is under investigation (in 2014) after his treasury team admitted that they had illegally used a fraudulent Public Relations consultancy, Bygmalion, to raise and channel payments ‘for services’ from clients into presidential election coffers. There is evidence that many large French businesses and public sector organisations were clients of Bygmalion, paying dearly for dubious services that were invoiced under a variety of headings, but which were either not used at all or had no direct value, but obviously the Directors must have thought that, on balance, the value to them in participating outweighed the risks of not doing so.

‘I have never believed in the absolute power of truth by itself. But it’s important to recognise that when the energy on both sides of the balance is equal, truth will win over lies.’

Albert Camus, Nobel Prize-winning author, journalist, and philosopher

The four cyclists parked their bicycles carefully and used them to climb over the high wall. The last one handed up a backpack and they quickly crossed the lawn and disappeared into shadows at the back of the house.

There was a break-in at Michel and Charlotte Bodin’s home at Maisons Lafitte, in the Yvelines, to the north-west of Paris. Charlotte phoned her aunt, Thérèse Milton, a few days later to tell her that some masked men had broken in, beaten up Michel and locked her in a cupboard. She had been terrified but was unhurt. Michel was recovering from bruises and had been very withdrawn ever since.

Thérèse expressed concern before asking, “What did they take?”

“Nothing much, just some small items of jewellery and alcohol. There was no money in the house for them to take. They kept asking where the money was kept, but in the end they left with almost nothing of value.”

“Have the police caught anybody?” probed Thérèse.

“So far they haven’t. Nobody saw anything.”

It seemed an odd story, but in the absence of further information, Thérèse and her husband George Milton had no alternative but to be relieved that nothing worse had happened and to speculate on the rationale behind such an apparently pointless intrusion. They knew that their nephew, Michel, usually carried a large roll of bank notes with him. Why had the raiders not found that? Perhaps they had. And why had Charlotte said there was no money in the house? Nobody asked and there was no explanation.

 

Early on the Sunday morning immediately following the break-in, at around four am, Annick Bodin, at twenty-two the eldest of three daughters, returned to her parents’ home with two of her friends who intended to sleep over. They had a drink in the kitchen and quietly retired to Annick’s bedroom so as not to wake her parents.

Next morning, when Annick eventually began to move towards the kitchen, she was thinking that her parents usually went to bed late and slept in, especially on a Sunday morning when there was no housekeeper, but she still wondered why there were no sounds of anyone moving about. After making coffee, she went back upstairs and tapped on their bedroom door, entered, and found them, much as the intruders had left them.

When the police arrived, Annick opened the front door to find an unfit-looking man and a woman, probably in her mid-thirties, both with glum faces. Annick’s first impression was confused. The man wore a dark overcoat over a rumpled suit, with trousers that were too long, and a white shirt. His sticky black hair hung below his collar. The woman had unevenly dyed, short blonde hair, long brown leather boots over dark jeans, and a multi coloured
knitted top with a generous loose collar which fell away from her neck. They introduced themselves as Francis and Paula, and Annick was wondering if they might be journalists until she saw the police markings on their car and the man described himself as ‘Head of Crime’. She let them in, and as they entered, Charlotte came to meet them in the hall, wrapping her dressing gown closer, and led them to the kitchen where Michel was staring into a large cup of coffee, holding a pack of frozen peas to the side of his head. Annick took up a position standing with her back to the sink and folded her arms nervously across her chest.

There was no circumlocution. No customer-care scripted sympathy. The officers drew up chairs, sat at the table, opened notebooks, and the man asked what had happened.

According to Charlotte, some men, probably four, had broken in through the garden room door, beaten up her husband and demanded to know where the money was kept. She had seen very little of what happened after that because they had thrown her into a cupboard and locked the door.

“Was there any money or a safe in the house?”

“Little money, and there is no safe.”

“So what did they take?”

“Two new bottles of whisky that were on the bar.” She gestured in the direction of the salon. “We haven’t looked around the rest of the house yet.”

“What sort of whisky?”

Michel raised his head. “One bottle of Chivas Regal and one bottle of Glenfiddich.”

The officer attempted a glacial smile for the first time. “So you are saying that four masked men broke into your house to steal two bottles of whisky?”

“They took some cash from my wallet but left the credit cards,” added Michel.

“How much?”

“About five thousand francs.”

“So not exactly a big haul. Can you describe the men in more detail? Did you hear them speak? How do you know they were men?”

Neither of the victims could add to the description of four masked people in black. None of them spoke and there were no identifying marks.

“I thought you said they asked where the money was kept.” There was a pause. Michel’s eyes flickered momentarily towards Charlotte.

“Yes, they did,” she responded.

“One of them, or several?”

“One of them.”

“Was it a French or foreign accent?”

“Maybe a slight foreign accent.”

“Go on.” The officer encouraged Charlotte to say more.

“I don’t know for sure, but it might have been North African.” Charlotte slowly raised her handkerchief to dab an eye, which was crying. She sniffed and looked down at the table.

“When you heard them speak, were you already locked in the cupboard?”

“No, they shouted when they first came into the bedroom and then put me in the cupboard.”

“Can either of you explain why it took from around two am, when you think the men left, till this morning before your daughter discovered you?”

They shook their heads and remained silent.

The officer continued, “I know your mouths were taped, but did either of you make a noise so she might hear you?”

“I tried to bounce the chair and make a noise on the floor,” said Michel, “But I was too weak to lift it.”

“And you, Madame?” He turned to Charlotte. “Did you bang on the cupboard door or try to force the lock?”

“No, I was too frightened. I wasn’t sure if it was my daughter moving or the intruders looking around. I was aware of several people in the house, so I stayed quiet.”

The policeman continued, “During this period when you were alone, did you try to communicate with each other?”

“No, I didn’t know where my wife was. I didn’t see her put in the cupboard. It is on the landing outside the bedroom,” Michel explained.

“Mme Bodin, did you try to make a noise or communicate with your husband?”

“No, as I said, I was worried the men might still be in the house.”

“So even this morning, until your daughter found you, you believed that the burglars were still here?”

“I must have dozed, I can’t remember. It was dark in the cupboard.”

Turning to Annick, the policeman asked, “Do you have anything to add, Mademoiselle? Did you notice anything unusual when you arrived with your friends?”

“No, nothing special. I didn’t see that the back door was unlocked. I was tired and I didn’t look around.”

“And where are your friends now?”

“They left when I called you. I had to go next door to make the call,” Annick responded.

“Can you give us their names and addresses?” She did with the minimum of words and became silent again.

The two police officers diligently completed their notes, then raised their heads. “Do you mind if we look around now?”

“Go ahead. Would you like me to come with you?” offered Michel.

“No, that won’t be necessary. I’d prefer you to stay here.”

The officers opened a large, dark briefcase, took out a camera, and put on disposable gloves and blue plastic overshoes. They went first to the garden room door. It was a double door, single glazed, each half with fourteen panes of glass in two columns by seven high. One pane next to the lock had been pushed or levered out of the glazing bars in one piece. This must have made a small noise when it fell on the carpet. The male officer opened the door carefully and closed it again several times, moving it with one finger. It moved smoothly and quietly, but bumped lightly against a rubber stop fixed to the wall. That might have been audible upstairs, but it would have been easy to prevent the door swinging so far. The glass on the floor was in one piece, having fallen onto the thick carpet. It had been placed against the skirting board as if someone wanted to avoid treading on it.

Then they went to the main bedroom and saw silver duct tape still adhering to the chair, and plenty more at the foot of the bed and on the outer bed posts. The woman officer took photographs as they proceeded.

When they came downstairs, Michel asked the police officers if they intended to have a forensic examination carried out.

“We’d like to ask you some more questions first, if you don’t mind,” said the woman officer. She summarised, “As we understand it, four men, we’ll call them men for the time being, entered your house by removing a glass pane and turning the key which had been left in the lock. Do you always leave the key in the lock?”

Charlotte answered, “Not normally, but sometimes we forget.”

“So this time you forgot. The men make a small noise, perhaps when the glass fell or banging the door open, and when they hear movement upstairs they wait for someone to come down, render him semi-conscious, and grab you at the top of the stairs. They ask for money, but after throwing you in a cupboard and tying your husband to a chair, they leave with a few thousand in cash and two bottles of whisky. They appear to be efficient, professional burglars with identity disguise and protective wear. It doesn’t sound like an opportunist robbery attempt. Have we understood that correctly so far?”

“Yes, that’s about right,” said Charlotte in a flat voice.

“That’s it as far as we know,” added Michel.

“Did they look around the house?” enquired the male officer.

“They did in the bedroom, but we couldn’t see what they did in the rest of the house.”

“Well, it looks as though they were very tidy people because there is no sign of what burglars typically do when making a quick search for valuables, especially money, and they left your credit cards, I believe.”

“Yes,” mumbled Michel, his head hanging forward above the coffee cup.

“It’s strange,” said the woman officer reflectively, creasing her face in puzzlement and pushing her glasses up her nose, “because there is usually a pattern to these things and there have been no reported incidents of this kind in the area. Can you think of anybody who would do something like this to embarrass or frighten you?”

They both shook their heads.

“Where were your other two daughters this weekend?”

“Our middle daughter is studying at an international college in Spain. She comes home only a couple of times a year. And the youngest is on her way to stay with relatives
in Ireland until Christmas. Only our eldest daughter, Annick, was staying here,” Charlotte informed them, nodding towards Annick.

“And Mademoiselle Annick, how did you call the police, we noticed that the phone cable was torn out upstairs?”

“Yes, and they did the same to the downstairs phone. As I said before, I had to go next door to our neighbours’ to make the call,” replied Annick.

“Your call was timed at eleven thirty-eight. That’s quite a long time after you discovered your parents, isn’t it?”

“Well, I had to see to my parents first and they were both suffering from shock, so I dealt with them as a priority. There was nothing more anybody else could do by then.”

The woman turned to the male officer enquiringly, then back to the Bodins,

“Well, I don’t think we can do much more here today, but if you remember any other details, however small, please call us on this number.” She handed a card to Michel.

“Are you going to make any more enquiries?” asked Michel.

“Yes, we will talk to the neighbours to check if anybody heard or saw anything unusual, such as any strange vehicles parked in the road. And we would like to take a statement from you, Mademoiselle, and from your friends, down at the office on Monday morning, so please let them know. We would also like to interview your sister when she is back from Ireland, so please ask her to come and see us as soon as she returns.” She smiled a cheerful but business-like smile, beaming it at each of the Bodins in turn.

Then to the parents, “We will also need you to come to the office to sign statements to the effect that we have registered all of your testimony correctly and that you swear to the completeness and truthfulness of your statements. We will let you know when they are ready.”

That was it. The police shook hands all round and left, easing themselves into their tiny Peugeot car and drove away leaving Michel, Charlotte and Annick with their thoughts.

In the car, the officers agreed that the couple were lying, or in the case of Annick, possibly concealing something to protect her parents.

“You saw the tape on the bed, Francis?” said the woman. “It looked to me as though it had been used to attach someone to the bed posts.”

“Yes, and you could see that they both had tape marks on their faces and their wrists.”

“Why would they not want to discuss that?” she asked.

“For the moment they are in denial, but we’ll see how it evolves. I think this was done to frighten or warn them. You can’t ignore the fact that it was so unproductive for the burglars.”

“Do you think the daughters could be behind it?”

“It’s unlikely but possible, but we don’t have enough to go on yet.”

“Why would they do something like that?”

“I don’t know, Paula. An alternative scenario is that Bodin could have organised it himself. It’s just that in all the similar cases that I know about, the motive was to profit from an insurance claim or have someone killed and make it look as though it was part of a robbery. There was no attempt here to do much more than enter and leave.”

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