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Galliano faces fine for drunk anti-Semitic insults

Fashion designer Galliano and his lawyer Zerbib arrive for a hearing at a police station in Paris
Fashion designer Galliano and his lawyer Zerbib arrive for a hearing at a police station in Paris

By Nick Vinocur

PARIS (Reuters) - A French prosecutor wants the fashion designer John Galliano to pay 10,000 euros ($14,350) in damages to people at whom he allegedly hurled anti-Semitic abuse in a drunken outburst that has wrecked a towering career.

Prosecutor Anne de Fontette said she wanted the 50-year-old Briton to pay up to 5,000 euros for each plaintiff in two cases brought to trial on Wednesday.

No prison sentence is being sought, and the trial verdict is due on September 8.

Galliano, an enfant terrible of fashion with a huge celebrity following, told the court in Paris he had been so out of control on drink and drugs that he could not recall hurling insults at strangers in a bar in recent months.

Looking thinner than in his last public appearance but still sporting his trademark razor-thin mustache, long sandy hair and leather trousers, Galliano stood as a judge read the charges.

The judge also read phrases he allegedly uttered in a February 24 incident in Paris including "dirty Jewish face," "f****** Asian b****** I will kill you," and "f****** ugly Jewish b****."

Asked whether he remembered the insults, Galliano said: "I don't remember very well ... I have no recollection," adding: "I have a triple addiction. Alcohol, sleeping pills and Valium."

He later added: "I would like to apologize if my behavior caused so much sadness ... to the victims, to the court. I've always condemned racism and anti-Semitism in all its forms."

Whatever the court's verdict, Galliano's career is already in tatters. He was fired from the fashion house Dior in March, after a video posted online showed him drunkenly telling a woman that he loved Hitler and saying her parents might have been gassed in a Nazi death camp.

French police first questioned him in February after a couple accused him of racial abuse on the terrace of a cafe.

CYCLICAL DRINKING

The trial pitted Galliano against a woman who claimed not to have heard of him before their February encounter, and another whose accusations center on events last October.

Galliano told the packed courtroom he had started drinking "cyclically" in 2007 when business was booming. Professional pressure then grew during the financial crisis as he signed licensing deals for his own brand, "John Galliano," with several new collections coming out to save it from failure.

"For every creative high, I would crash, and drinking would help me to escape," he said.

Asked why he had not admitted being drunk and on drugs to the police, he said: "I was in denial. I was still taking those pills and alcohol."

One plaintiff, museum curator Geraldine Bloch, said she had heard the word "Jewish" linked to another insult "at least 30 times" while sitting next to Galliano at the La Perle bar.

Witnesses including a waiter said they had not heard the word "Jewish," according to statements read out by the court.

Bloch said she found this surprising given how loud the words were spoken. "There were variations, but the word Jewish kept coming back," she said.

Bloch's lawyer, Yves Beddouk, has said Bloch will seek symbolic damages of 1 euro and publication of the court's decision in two fashion magazines, Elle and Vogue, and the French daily Le Figaro.

Beddouk told Reuters his client mainly wanted Galliano to acknowledge the alleged anti-Semitic tirade publicly and make a show of contrition that befitted his reputation.

Galliano's lawyer Aurelien Hamelle has said he will call a toxicology expert to testify that the designer, triply addicted to alcohol, the sedative Valium and powerful sleeping pills, would have been in a state of utter abandon.

Galliano left France shortly after he was fired from Dior, the main fashion name at luxury goods giant LVMH, to receive treatment for substance abuse in the United States.

(Editing by Catherine Bremer and Kevin Liffey)

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