Nights in a luxury hotel, high-end stones for his personal terrace, hiring of a relative by the community: the criminal court began on Monday to dissect the practices of the president (DVD) of the metropolis of Lille (Mel) , Damien Castelain.
The president of the court immediately recalls that the 56-year-old elected official, tried for embezzlement of public funds, illegal taking of interests, concealment and favoritism, has presided over one of the largest metropolises in France since 2014, with an annual budget of ‘around 2 billion euros.
He is accused in particular of paying for nights in a five-star hotel near the Parc des Princes in Paris, meals with his partner, a 1,500 euro suit or an Hermès perfume, as well as use of a vehicle for personal travel.
A “problem of method”
The amounts involved are “ridiculous”, “not even 100 euros” for a meal for two people at a restaurant, downplays Damien Castelain. However, he recognizes a “problem of method”, particularly in the use of a Mel bank card and recalls that he reimbursed some 20,000 euros of expenses covered by the management of his office.
Some of these expenses were part of his entertainment costs, he argues, while others were intended for gifts. “Can public funds be used to relax in a bubble bath? » asks the prosecutor astonished, referring to treatments in spas regulated by Mel. “That poses a problem and I reimbursed,” replies Damien Castelain.
A sub-prefect in the dock
The president of the Mel is also questioned about the approximately 22,000 euros in legal fees paid by the Mel for its defense in the Grand Stade affair, in which six people, including him, had been indicted for various acts of corruption, favoritism or even influence peddling, before a dismissal of the case.
If his functional protection is not in question, the court criticizes him for not having had this decision voted on by the metropolitan council, as the procedure provides, but for having had it validated by its vice-president. He is accused of having “self-assumed power” for a decision that concerned him and of having thus avoided the political debate.
Also in the dock is the sub-prefect of Aix-en-Provence, Bruno Cassette, former director general of Mel services. He is on trial for complicity in illegal taking of interests and infringement of freedom of access to public markets.
The trial is scheduled to continue until Thursday.