A French court on Wednesday sentenced the manager of a fishing tackle shop in the town of Linas, south of Paris, to two years in prison on slavery charges.
The 41-year-old man was also ordered to pay 250,000 euros in damages to his victims, two men aged 63 and 71, whom prosecutors said suffered from mental retardation and spent decades working for the businessman.
The two men, identified only as “JP” and “Jo-Jo” by lawyers, slept in separate shacks at the back of the same warehouse where fishing bait was stored – living quarters that witnesses described as “unsanitary” and “dangerous”.
One of the two men was recruited by the family-run company 40 years ago at a centre for minors. The other was hired upon his release from a psychiatric hospital some 30 years ago. Their lawyer said both men had become completely dependent on their boss, who also held onto their identity papers – a telltale indication of slavery.
“Let’s be clear about this, this is a slavery trial,” prosecutor David Desgranges told reporters Wednesday at the courthouse in the city of Evry, located 25 kilometres south of Paris.
The men were paid 20 euros for 50 to 60 hours of work per week. Social workers sent to recover the men from the tackle shop said they were found feeble and undernourished.
Judges in the case also handed a two-year suspended prison sentence to the businessman’s elderly mother. The 81-year-old-woman was found guilty of fraudulent abuse of a person’s weakness.
In his defence, the shop owner said his family considered the employment of the two men as a kind of charity. “They were never physically abused, they came and went as they pleased, ate when they wanted to,” he told judges.
However, the accused also admitted that JP had in the past attempted to flee the premises where the victims worked and lived.
The case was opened after the Committee Against Modern Slavery (known by its French acronym CCEM ), a non-governmental organisation, was tipped off to the situation.
“Slavery can be found only a metro ride away,” CCEM’s president, Sylvie O'Dy, said following the ruling.
Slavery was officially abolished in France in 1848 but is alive in well within its borders and around the world. Ninety percent of the people whose slavery cases are handled by CCEM are women, while 29 percent are minors.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-04-11