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Designer Galliano found guilty of racist abuse but spared a jail term

Judges opt for suspended fine for anti-Semitic rant because of professional disgrace the couturier suffered.

Fashion designer John Galliano, seen as he arrives at the Paris court for his trial in June, was handed only a suspended fine for his racist rant. JACQUES DEMARTHON / AFP PHOTO
Fashion designer John Galliano, seen as he arrives at the Paris court for his trial in June, was handed only a suspended fine for his racist rant. JACQUES DEMARTHON / AFP PHOTO

The fashion designer John Galliano escaped immediate punishment yesterday despite being convicted by a Parisian court of hurling anti-Semitic abuse in two drunken incidents that cost him his high-flying career.

Galliano was given a suspended fine of €6,000 (Dh30,833), less than a third of the maximum financial penalty.

He could also have been jailed for six months, though only if the court had taken the unusual step of ignoring the prosecution's recommendation that fines were appropriate.

In reaching a decision some may see as lenient, the three judges appeared to have taken account of the professional disgrace Galliano has brought on himself. He was fired as chief designer of Christian Dior after his arrest in February.

Born in Gibraltar and raised in London, the 50-year-old Galliano did not attend court to hear the verdict.

He was found guilty on two counts of subjecting fellow customers in a fashionable Parisian bar to "public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity".

Despite claims that addictions to alcohol, sleeping pills and Valium meant he had no recollection of what he had said, Judge Anne-Marie Sauteraud concluded he had "sufficient knowledge of his actions" to establish culpability.

Galliano was found to have insulted other customers at La Perle, a bar in the Marais district, traditionally a Jewish quarter of the French capital.

The first episode to come to light concerned Géraldine Bloch, who said he told her: "Dirty Jew. You should be dead."

Ms Bloch turned out to work as a curator at the Institute of the Arab World in Paris and the French media had reported that she was not Jewish, though she was in the company of a male friend who was.

As Galliano issued indignant denials and threatened counter-proceedings, the British tabloid newspaper The Sun obtained a video clip of another incident, filmed on a mobile phone, showing him abusing two women in the same bar.

He appeared very drunk but could be heard saying "I love Hitler" and: "People like you would be dead. Your forefathers would all be f****** gassed." The video was shown to the court, although the women lodged no complaint and the incident was not part of the charges against the designer.

But in another encounter that was considered by the court, an English language teacher Fatiha Oummedour, 47, was said to have been subjected to anti-Semitic and racial insults.

Explaining Dior's decision to dismiss Galliano for his "odious" conduct, the chief executive, Sidney Toledano, said in March: "I very firmly condemn most firmly the statements made by John Galliano which are a total contradiction with the essential values that have always been defended by the House of Christian Dior."

Further embarrassment for the fashion house came when the Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman, the "face" of its Cherle perfume, expressed disgust, "as an individual who is proud to be Jewish", at the outbursts. As a result, she said, she would "not be associated with Mr Galliano in any way".

After decades of distancing itself from the events of the Second World War, when an estimated 75,000 French Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps, France has taken a firm stand on anti-Semitism in recent times.

In fact Galliano professed not to have an ounce of anti-Semitic blood and had been reported in the British press as speaking with pride about 19th-century Jewish ancestry of his own.

He disputed some of the accounts given of the incidents that led to his prosecution but admitted his conduct was offensive.

In a statement before his June court appearance, he said: "I have fought my entire life against prejudice, intolerance and discrimination having been subjected to it myself. In all my work my inspiration has been to unite people of every race, creed, religion and sexuality by celebrating their cultural and ethnic diversity through fashion."

His 15-year association with Dior over, Galliano has sought to rebuild his life and career. What the future holds is unclear; he has a shop in Paris but Dior owns a large stake.

In the summer, he paid tribute to Kate Moss, the British model who commissioned him to design her wedding dress, describing her loyalty as "my creative rehabilitation".

A member of Galliano's legal team said after yesterday's hearing that the court had reached "a fair and wise decision". Galliano wished to apologise for his behaviour and continue treatment for his addictions.

 

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Associated Press