Woman sentenced for anti-semitism lie

For lying about attack, woman earns a four-month suspended sentence -- and lots of therapy.

Published July 27, 2004 1:16PM (EDT)

A mother who claimed to be the victim of an anti-semitic attack that rocked France, but later admitted making the whole thing up was yesterday given a four-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to seek therapy. Marie-Leonie Leblanc, 23, who said she had been physically and verbally assaulted on a train by six youths of Arab origin, was convicted of denouncing an imaginary crime and placed on two years' probation.

"I wanted people to pay attention to me," Leblanc told the court at Cergy-Pontoise outside Paris. "I wanted my parents to pay attention to me; I wanted Christophe [her partner] to pay attention to me."

On July 9, she walked into her local police station and described the fictitious attack. None of her fellow passengers moved a muscle as the youths slashed her clothes, cut off locks of her hair, knocked over her 13-month-old baby's pushchair and scrawled swastikas on her stomach with a marker pen, she said.

She retracted her story four days later, saying she had inflicted the wounds on herself.

Asked by the judge, Jean Idrac-Virebent, if she had not realised that her allegations of anti-semitism  she is not Jewish  would "unleash passions", she said she had not. Asked why she had pointed the finger at north Africans and black people, she said: "When I watch the telly, they are always the ones who are blamed."

Her lawyer, Christophe Deltombe, stressed that his client was "well aware that she has deeply upset a lot of people", but that "at no time whatsoever did she seek the publicity that this affair has received".

Leblanc's family said yesterday that she wanted to put the episode behind her. She told investigators she made up the attack, which sparked outrage in the media, so her boyfriend would spend the day with her.

"She's always told stories, since she was very small," her older brother, Jean-Baptiste, told French radio. "She told me so many that I stopped listening."

Her mother, Genevieve, said Marie-Leonie had "told a lot of lies" as a girl, "not in a wicked way, but to grab attention, like many kids".

The public prosecutor told the court that on six occasions between 1999 and 2002, Leblanc had filed formal complaints about assaults that had never been investigated because they could not be substantiated.

"It was the SOS of a young woman who was depressed, who didn't know what to do," her mother said. "Then she was caught up in the whole spiral."

A psychiatrist said Leblanc had "a strong need to be acknowledged, no matter what the price".

Her mother said Leblanc was now "getting better". She had started a course of treatment and planned to finish her studies to become a management assistant.

"This trial should help her stop the lies."

The incident caused uproar in France, which is highly sentitive to allegations of anti-semitism. Days earlier, President Jacques Chirac had demanded a determined fight against racism and all other forms of intolerance that were "soiling" France.

Soon afterwards, the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, urged French Jews to flee to Israel to escape "the wildest anti-semitism".

By Jon Henley

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