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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Designer Galliano goes on trial over anti-Semitic remarks

Paris - Flamboyant fashion designer John Galliano went trial Wednesday, accused of making anti-Semitic comments against at least three people in a Paris cafe.

Judge Anne-Marie Sauteraud read out a list of the abuse Galliano is accused of hurling at Geraldine Bloch and Philippe Virgitti as proceedings began, including obscenities mixed with remarks about their ethnic backgrounds.

"He said 'dirty whore' at least a thousand times," the judge said.

Galliano said on the witness stand that he had no memory of making the comments.

Asked to explain his "lack of memory," he said: "I have an addiction. I am currently undergoing treatment."

Galliano's attorney said before the trial began the designer "was a sick person, who was suffering from addiction and this is something we are demonstrating through medical evidence, expert reports."

"We must not judge a man who for 30 years has been dedicated to diversity, who has been a loving person for all races, cultures and religions ... based on 40 minutes where he was sick through alcohol and medication," Aurelien Hamelle said.

Fashion giant Christian Dior fired Galliano in March after video surfaced that showed him praising Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and making anti-Semitic remarks.

Bloch testified Wednesday that she encountered Galliano on a crowded cafe terrace, which led to an angry exchange.

"I don't remember his exact wording; there were different phrases," Bloch told the court. "It's true that I was angry. I insulted him, too."

Virgitti testified the confrontation, which he called "just an argument in a bar," began when Galliano sat down next to his party at the cafe.

"He started speaking to us very quickly after arriving," Virgitti said. "He told Geraldine to speak less as she was disturbing him. We didn't know what to do. The situation got worse. He started touching her hair, saying she had no hair. I told him, 'Don't touch her.' "

He acknowledged during his testimony that while Galliano "said things he shouldn't have," the incident "has been so overly played out in the media."

Galliano faces a six-month jail term and a fine of 22,500 euros ($32,410) if he is convicted, according to prosecutors.

Wednesday's proceedings are expected to last several hours. No verdict is expected on Wednesday.

Galliano will be judged in one trial over two separate incidents, one in October and one this February.

Galliano was taken to a police station after the second incident, and a test revealed he had a high level of alcohol in his blood, authorities said at the time. He was later released.

The video is from yet another incident, over which he is not being tried because the couple involved chose not to press charges.

"I love Hitler," Galliano said in a video obtained by Britain's Sun newspaper. "Your mother, your forefathers would be f---ing gassed and f---ing dead."

Christian Dior condemned his "deeply offensive statements and conduct."

French law prohibits the incitement of racial discrimination, hatred, or violence based on a person's origin or their membership -- or nonmembership -- in an ethic, national, racial or religious group.

Galliano apologized after the video was released.

"I only have myself to blame and I know that I must face up to my own failures and that I must work hard to gain people's understanding and compassion," Galliano said in a statement. "Anti-Semitism and racism have no part in our society."

Galliano has kept a low profile since his firing, but Vanessa Friedman, fashion editor of the Financial Times newspaper, said that given time, he could return to the industry.

His career is over in its present form, she said.

But he could return to Britain, where there is "residual love for him," lay low and make a comeback in a few years, she said.

"People love a redemption story," Friedman said.

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