Convictions and Questions
Here is an abridged version of an article in Le Monde describing the exceptionally rapid response of the justice system to the Gare du Nord riots:
They are between 18 and 32 years of age. They were born in Seine-Saint-Denis, Bamako (Mali), Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire (Congo) or in Sarcelles (Val-d'Oise) and they live in Ivry, Villiers-le Bel, Argenteuil or Sevran (all in the Parisian region). On Thursday March 29, they were convicted one at a time by the 23rd criminal court of Paris.
Accused of having participated in the melée that took place at the Gare du Nord after a passenger without a ticket was stopped, the court convicted four of them to sentences ranging from 4 months probation to 4 months in jail. Two others received a postponement until May 2.
With the exception of Angelo Hoekelet, 32, the main perpetrator, they have no past record.
Indicted for throwing objects at the police, one admitted throwing a pair of shoes; another denied throwing an iron object: "I did not throw anything and I didn't hit anyone"; a third insisted with a straight face that the beer can he threw was not meant for the police: "I did not aim at the police, your Honor, I threw it at my friends as a joke." This third individual is 20 years old, a student of Economics at the University of Nanterre, the son of a scientist and a teacher and has a different profile from his fellow detainees who are less well-off.
"They are scape-goats," said their lawyers who emphasized "the pressures connected" to this case. "We should be able to wait a while and stick to the facts and to the charges weighing on our clients...To ask for a six-month prison term for a beer can is excessive!"
However another article informs us that one of the vandals named Sylvain Hancq, 23, was sentenced to a six-month jail term for hurtling an 80-pound plant container from the ground level to the lower level, 12 yards below where the police were stationed. No one was injured.
"If I had seen people below, I wouldn't have thrown it," he insisted. "But you knew that the lower level could not be deserted," said the judge. "I didn't think at the time," answered Hancq who could have been charged with attempted murder.
The perpetrator Angelo Hoekelet is the subject of several articles where we learn that the original reports on his past activities may have been erroneous. The police union UNSA headed by Joaquin Masanet issued an accusation against the Interior Ministry, as Le Monde reports:
The general secretary of UNSA affirmed on Friday his fear of a "manipulation of public opinion" in the background information provided about the contravening passenger at the Gare du Nord and demanded an explanation from Interior Minister François Baroin (pictured), who had said on Wednesday that Hoekelet was a "multi-recidivist, who had illegally returned to French territory, with a record of 22 violent crimes."
But on Thursday the man's lawyer M. Boccara, assured the criminal court, without being contradicted by the judge, that the detained man had only seven convictions on his record and that he was legally in France under the family reunification. "I demand that the Minister of the Interior tell us exactly what he is accused of...It's a manipulation of public opinion if it's erroneous...The most serious matter is that we are in an election period and they are deceiving public opinion..."
In a third article from Le Monde, Interior Minister François Baroin maintains his position on Angelo Hoekelet, but we learn that the expulsion order had been at some point revoked:
"I have nothing to retract from what I said after the events at the Gare du Nord...He has 22 items on his police record, of which 7 have been tried in court; he has been implicated in cases involving illegal weapons and drugs; he has no visa and despite the cancellation of his expulsion order, he had no guarantee of obtaining his legalization papers."
Contrary to what the minister had declared at first, Hoekelet was not illegally in France, rather was there under family reunification, but had never bothered to obtain his papers.
Note: Sorting this out has been frustrating. First, Hoekelet was said to be clandestine, then it turns out that he came under family reunification, hence legally. But if he never got his papers, doesn't that mean he's in France illegally, if not clandestinely? Then we learn that his expulsion frm France was cancelled and that he was a few days away from obtaining his papers. The media have made much of the fact that he was not clandestine, as if that had something to do with his actions at the Gare du Nord, and there has been a rush to defend him against the erroneous charge.
In cases like these, one slip or error from the Interior Ministry can almost exonerate the criminal, in the eyes of the press.
The new Interior Minister François Baroin, 41, named on Monday March 26 to replace Nicolas Sarkozy, is the youngest cabinet member. La Croix has a brief analysis:
He is one of the rare Chirac loyalists who is also "Sarko compatible". In his own words: "I am a man of fidelity and loyalty, fidelity to the president of the Republic, a man of loyalty to the Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, and loyal to the leader of the UMP party Nicolas Sarkozy."
Despite the outward appearance of an eternal student with granny glasses that has earned him the nickname of Harry Potter, François Baroin is an accomplished politician.
He worked his way up from city councillor, when he was 24, in Nogent-sur-Seine (Aube), to a ministerial post at age 30. He was elected deputy for the second time in 1997 and joined the staff of UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) in 2003. The political "god-child" of Jacques Chirac quietly acceded to the post of political counsel to Nicolas Sarkozy in 2004.
He is the son of Michel Baroin, former Grand Master of the French Grand Orient (Freemasons) who died in an airplane crash in 1987.
François Baroin is divorced and the father of three.