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Beausoleil: Mayor Gérard Spinelli to appear in court in September

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Gérard Spinelli is still presumed innocent - © Beausoleil Town Council

The mayor had already been accused in another case six years ago but was acquitted.

Did Gérard Spinelli organise private parties at taxpayers’ expense? This is the question that the courts will have to settle in the autumn.

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Following a search of Beausoleil town hall in May by the criminal investigation police, and a spell in police custody, the mayor of Beausoleil appeared before the Nice public prosecutor on 16 June, as reported by our colleagues at Nice-Matin. He walked free from the Palais de Justice after posting bail of €50,000 to secure a more lenient form of judicial supervision, but he will still have to appear before the Criminal Court on 25 September 2023.

Presumed innocent, the elected official, who returned to office in 2008 after a first term from 1995 to 2001, is being prosecuted for being an “accessory to a breach of trust”,  for “misappropriation of public funds by a person in public office” and for “favouritism”. According to Le Figaro, the case dates back to 2017 and 2018, and four other people have also been charged. But what exactly is the public prosecutor’s office referring to?

A dinner funded by a non-profit organisation

According to France 3 Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur, the mayor of Beausoleil is primarily accused of “having helped to use a non-profit organisation for purposes that were inconsistent with its stated mission.” In concrete terms, a dinner was organised at the Café de Paris in April 2017 to celebrate the Thai New Year, Thailand being the birthplace of the elected representative’s wife. Problem: the bill was settled by the Association Beausoleilloise des Amis d’Alba (ABAA).

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The non-profit organisation – whose Facebook page has since been deleted –whose stated mission is to promote Italian culture in the municipality… had already given rise to many objections from the opposition. An article in Monaco-Matin, published in 2017, recounted a heated debate that took place at a Town Council meeting. The majority had planned to grant a subsidy of €70,000 to ABAA for 2017.

A considerably higher sum than the €1,000 awarded to In/Tension Théâtre for its performances, the €2,000 granted to Bellevue middle school for a class trip to the mountains for 20 children, or the €600 set aside for members of the Légion d’Honneur. Not to mention the town’s finances at the time, with estimated debts of €7 million.

The opposition objected to the “colossal” sum involved and the Association’s involvement in “many activities that have nothing to do with Alba [such as the staircase race, the end-of-year festivities and the TV heroes festival].

This should not be a recurrent subsidy. I question the ties between the town hall, the Association and its leader,” said Jean-Jacques Guitard, of the “Rassemblement Bleu Marine” group. Mr. Guitard had even obtained the 2015 accounts for the Association and pointed out that a €90,000 subsidy had been voted in 2014, of which €45,000 was unaccounted for. “We have no invoices, no bank statements,” he said.

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Gérard Spinelli immediately dismissed these suspicions, admitting that “the Association is badly named. ABAA takes part in all the key events in Beausoleil to do with Italy. Italian culture is integral to the town. €70,000 is a sum that mostly covers invoices for events. Funding for the white truffle festival is very important. I don’t have a problem with how the money is used.”

Mrs Spinelli’s birthday party, paid for by the taxpayer?

As for favouritism and misappropriation of public funds, Gérard Spinelli is accused of a certain number of “hospitality expenses” that are not in line with Public Procurement legislation. An engineering consultant by profession, the elected official was allegedly approached by the town council as a self-employed contractor, but did not, according to the court, issue a call for tenders.

The investigation relates to events dating back to 2018. The Nice public prosecutor’s office considers that certain formal rules should have been applied more strictly, in line with the Public Procurement Code. I am not accused of any personal profit or vested interest. I have been asking my staff to be more rigorous in applying the sometimes-complex rules for awarding contracts, since 2018. Today, I am repeating this request in even stronger terms to each of the departments concerned,” Gérard Spinelli said.

The mayor is also suspected of having organised a reception in 2018 at the prestigious Hôtel de Paris, a well-known luxury hotel in Monte Carlo, where Spinelli’s wife’s birthday is alleged to have been celebrated using public funds. That same year, Gérard Spinelli was also accused of allegedly hosting a party at taxpayers’ expense to celebrate his acquittal.

Suspicion of corruption regarding the Odeon Tower

Because this is not the first time that the mayor has had dealings with the courts. In 2017, Gérard Spinelli appeared before the Marseille Criminal Court, after a six-year investigation, according to France 3 Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur. At issue was the construction of the famous Odeon Tower, Monaco’s tallest skyscraper, on the border that separates the Principality and Beausoleil.

The mayor was accused of “passive corruption” and spent 24 days in custody in 2009. According to 20 Minutes, Gérard Spinelli was suspected of having received kickbacks from the developers Paolo and Claudio Marzocco, who were also charged, via Ange-Roméo Alberti, who was alleged to have acted as an intermediary in the affair.

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Gérard Spinelli was allegedly paid several tens of thousands of euros to facilitate, or refrain from impeding, the smooth running of the project. With their view and the sunshine obscured, many Beausoleil residents were opposed to the construction of this huge 170-metre, 49-storey tower, as reported by Monaco-Matin.

Gérard Spinelli was given a three-year suspended prison sentence at the time but was acquitted on appeal. His acquittal was confirmed the following year by the Court of Appeal in Aix-en-Provence, despite the prosecutor’s request that he receive a 2-year sentence, including six months’ imprisonment. “It’s the end of a nine-year-long nightmare. From the outset there has been no case to answer,” said François-Xavier Vincensini, Gérard Spinelli’s lawyer.

The affair did not stop Gérard Spinelli from winning the 2020 town council elections hands down, with 70.96% of the vote.

The defence stands firm

And today, Mr Vincensini is defending his client once again. Contacted by us, he confirmed that “this is about very old events, dating back to 2017 and 2018. The mayor is not accused of any personal profit or vested interest. Certain particularly complex rules relating to public procurement (…) could simply have been better adhered to, according to the investigators. This involves two small contracts worth under €10,000. It certainly was not the deliberate intention of Town Hall staff, let alone the Mayor, to circumvent or flout the relevant rules. (…)

Then there’s the matter of the cake, a strawberry cake, served at an official meal attended by several figures with links to the town. The official nature of the meal is not in dispute. The question is  whether this cake should be considered part of the official meal that was served, which would seem natural, since there would necessarily be a dessert at the end of the meal. Or whether the cake was part of a private event, i.e., the birthday of the mayor’s wife, since the official meal took place on the eve of Mrs Spinelli’s birthday. The proximity of the dates gives rise to an ambiguity that is certainly regrettable, but it should be remembered that we are talking about a cake (…) What is clear is that this kind of ambiguity will not recur in future, to avoid any confusion.”

As for the Thai New Year, celebrated a few months earlier, the mayor’s defence counsel is also very clear, as Nice-Matin reports: “this event, like others, was intended to promote Beausoleil’s image and foster ties. In fact, there were only officials around the table.”

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Me Vincensini concluded in the local daily that his client is an “engineering consultant whose expertise is universally acknowledged, to the point that when he retired, the municipality continued to use his services as a self-employed contractor .(…) While he denies any wrongdoing [by not issuing a call for tender, Ed.], the mayor immediately expressed his determination to apply the rules of public procurement with the utmost rigour in order to avoid any misunderstandings in future.

A former adversary behind the allegations

The person behind the recent claims is Stéphane Manfredi. A former civil servant in charge of protocol who was sacked by the municipality following accusations by his colleagues of sexual harassment and a rape charge (which was dismissed), he stood in the 2020 municipal elections on the Rassemblement National ticket.

According to Nice-Matin, Stéphane Manfredi reported the incumbent mayor’s “compromising” invoices. “This is normal when it comes to the use of public funds, and even automatic when accusations are made,” commented Mr Vincensini, while denying the allegations made by the former civil servant.

The mayor also claimed that the disputed birthday cake, with Mrs Spinelli’s name on it, had been ordered by Stéphane Manfredi himself.

Mr. Manfredi also contacted Médiapart while the 2020 election campaign was in full swing.. The newspaper published a long article in which Stéphane Manfredi says, anonymously: “I have no faith in the local justice system, which is why I decided to file my claims in Paris.”

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The publication does state that the investigation began on 26 August 2019, after Stéphane Manfredi filed a report with the French National Financial Prosecutor’s Office. “Mr Gérard Spinelli uses the material, human and financial resources made available to him by the local authority to satisfy private needs or interests that have no connection with his elected offices. Significant municipal resources are used to private ends and are deliberately and intentionally used for other purposes than those they were intended for,” the complaint states.

Since the publication of the article, in which the mayor declined to comment, Stéphane Manfredi has admitted to being the author of the complaint and the statements, as Gérard Spinelli confirmed in a major interview with Monaco Hebdo a month later.

Describing Manfredi as someone “to whom he gave a helping hand by taking him on at the town hall in 2012, when he had personal problems that were complex to say the least ,” Gérard Spinelli also took full responsibility for the 47% increase in costs for the organisation of festivals and ceremonies between 2010 and 2016, as identified by the Chambre régionale des comptes (Regional public accounts authority) and mentioned by Médiapart.

These funds enable us to organise over fifty events a year, including the book festival, the chamber music festival, the carnival, etc I therefore stand by this choice of incurring protocol expenses for entertainment, festivities and ceremonies,” he said, adding that he intended to lodge a complaint against the newspaper and Stéphane Manfredi for “spreading fake news in order to influence an electoral outcome.

Many Beausoleillois also expressed satisfaction on social media following the announcement of Gérard Spinelli’s victory, criticising the “slander” spread by the opposition.

Three years on, the elected representative remains confident about future events, as Nice-Matin reveals: “It’s part of the democratic game,” he told them in May. “I tried to provide the investigators who questioned me with details they didn’t have. I think they heard me.

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The outcome will be known in September.

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