News

French court jails ex-policeman turned slum lord

By AFP

January 24, 2024 10:40 PM


 

A French court Wednesday sentenced a former policeman to five years in prison, one of them suspended, for acting as a slum lord to vulnerable foreigners in the southern port city of Marseille.

Gerard Gallas, 50, stood accused of renting out some 100 unsanitary housing units from 2019 to 2021, mostly to undocumented migrants and asylum seekers from Nigeria and the Comoros, including families with children.

He had worked as a policeman at a migrant detention centre in Marseille for around a decade until 2017, before receiving an inheritance that allowed him to buy up real estate.

Tenants told the court they paid up to 600 euros ($650) a month to live in small rooms, sometimes without windows, or in the basement, in four buildings he owned in the cheaper run-down north of the city.

Some rooms had no hot water or heating -- or even electricity -- and many were infested with rats and cockroaches, they said.

When they withheld rent in protest at these desperate housing conditions, their landlord threatened to report them to the local police chief, who he claimed was a friend, or sent his henchman to beat them, they added.

Judge Pascal Gand said he was sentencing the former policeman, who did not attend the verdict, for "unscrupulously exploiting other people's misery".

He ordered Gallas, who he said was in hospital, to pay a 75,000-euro fine and 300,000 euros in damages.

Prosecutors said Gallas was detained last week in another case of alleged rape and domestic violence that led to a permanent disability. It was not immediately clear why he had needed to receive medical care.

In total, Gallas is believed to have owned around 10 buildings in the city.

Lawyer Aurelien Leroux, who represented several tenants and two local associations at the trial, welcomed the verdict.

"It's the harshest sentence to have ever been handed to a slum lord in Marseille," he said.

Around 10 percent of the city's housing units are unfit to live in, according to official figures.

Left-wing mayor Benoit Payan also hailed the ruling.

"No more impunity," he said on X, formerly Twitter, announcing more similar cases and applauding parliament this week approving a fresh housing bill.

France's lower-house National Assembly on Tuesday voted in favour of the new law, which includes tougher sanctions for slum lords, called "sleep merchants" in French.

The bill, which still needs to be approved by the upper-house Senate, was discussed without a housing minister.

President Emmanuel Macron has not named one after his cabinet reshuffle earlier this month.


AFP


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