Versailles (AFP)

A journalist from Mediapart was acquitted on appeal in France of defamation proceedings brought by the Bolloré group, for an article from 2016 which had earned her a conviction at first instance, the Versailles court of appeal told AFP on Thursday .

Fanny Pigeaud, specialist in Africa, was sentenced in 2018 to a fine of 1,500 euros suspended for an article published on the information site entitled "How the Bolloré group ruined two Cameroonian entrepreneurs".

The director of the publication, Edwy Plenel, had fined him 1,500 euros firm.

The correctional court of Nanterre then considered that the incriminated investigation was "incomplete", "dependent", and "non-adversarial" and that the two defendants had therefore shown themselves "in bad faith".

The journalist defended herself at the hearing by saying that she tried unsuccessfully to join the Bolloré group and its councils for nearly three weeks.

On Wednesday, however, the Versailles Court of Appeal confirmed the defamatory nature of the comments pursued but it released the defendants under "good faith", ruling that the factual basis of the investigation was "serious and sufficient", welcomed Me Emmanuel Tordjman, counsel for Ms. Pigeaud.

"This is a great victory for freedom of expression," said the lawyer.

Asked by AFP, Bolloré's lawyer Olivier Baratelli said he did not understand "the interest that Mediapart has in this story of more than twenty years", saying that it did not "concern" the group, the target company according to him not yet belonging to the French giant.

In this article, the freelance writer estimated that two Cameroonian entrepreneurs had found themselves ruined because the French group had not respected a Cameroonian court decision taken in 1993 urging it to pay their company damages.

Their goods, medicinal plants, had in fact been stored by a subsidiary of Bolloré, Socopao, and had suffered damage, making the product unsaleable.

The article spoke of a "collusion" between the Cameroonian authorities and the French group.

Mediapart had won their previous pass with the Bolloré empire, alongside other media and NGOs, in March 2018: the Paris criminal court had acquitted them while they were being pursued by Socfin - a holding company owner of plantations in Africa and Asia and of which the Bolloré group is a shareholder - for having reported "land grabbing" by this company.

© 2021 AFP