A French court has convicted longtime perfume maker Jean-Paul Guerlain of making racist insults on national television and fined him $8,000.
The judge did not sentence Guerlain, 75, to any prison time on Thursday but the charge could have allowed a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a fine of $29,800.
Guerlain – the former “nose” behind the world-famous perfume brand – was also ordered to pay $2,600 in damages to each of three anti-racist groups that were civil plaintiffs in the case.
The heir to his family’s cosmetics empire, Guerlain provoked anger among French minorities with comments made in a 2010 interview on France-2 television.
Guerlain used the term “negre”, a French racial slur, and implied that black people were lazy, when he explained how he worked hard to create a perfume.
Several anti-racism groups filed legal complaints, and protests were staged in front of the Guerlain store on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris. Some called for a boycott of Guerlain products.
Guerlain apologised to France’s black community during the trial, calling it an “imbecilic” remark.
“I am from another generation,” he said during the trial, so part of the remark was “a common expression at the time.”
He also said the comments were made during a TV interview because he “wanted to make the journalist laugh and I regret it”.
Patrick Klugman, a lawyer for the SOS Racism Association, said Guerlain had been “convicted heavily” by the court.
“This is what we wanted. He has been given a fine and will have to pay indemnities to different associations which were involved,” he said.
Klugman said the case had been “symbolic because, just because Mr Guerlain has a proverbial racism, that doesn’t mean that it’s not racist”.
Stephane Lataste, a lawyer for Guerlain, indicated that his client was also partially satisfied by the verdict as he had been acquitted of racism regarding part of his comments.
“A satisfaction, nonetheless, because he was acquitted on the first sentence of his remarks, so we can use that without fear of the law and as for the second phrase, I am disappointed by the court’s decision.”
The 2010 incident sparked widespread condemnation, with anti-racism groups saying it highlighted deep prejudice in French society.
Earlier this month French police said they were probing additional accusations that Guerlain made an anti-immigrant rant against Eurostar workers.
Three employees of the high-speed rail firm that links Paris and London made a complaint to police accusing Guerlain of making remarks of a racist nature as they helped the wheelchair-bound pensioner board a train.
Guerlain missed the train because he arrived late at Paris’ Gare du Nord station and then allegedly launched into a tirade against the three, two of whom were black and the third of Asian origin.
Guerlain is the great-great-grandson of the founder of the Guerlain cosmetics company, now owned by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH).
But the company has lately distanced itself from Guerlain, who had retired at 65 but remained a consultant.
LVMH was embarrassed last year when designer John Galliano – who worked for LVMH subsidiary Christian Dior – was convicted of anti-Semitic comments.