Petition Calls for French Farine Employee's Release from Shanghai Jail

By That's Shanghai, August 17, 2017

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The family of a French citizen and Farine employee have started a petition calling for his release from jail following the popular Shanghai bakery's expired flour scandal.

Laurent Fortin, a staff member previously identified as the bakery's production director, was formally arrested along with at least three Chinese employees (Xin Xiangrong, Hu Jun and Lu Jiajian) by Minhang District prosecutors in April, according to Shanghai Daily. 

They were accused of using expired factory at the company's Minhang factory, which was used in breads supplied to the bakery's outlets at Wukang LuIFC MallHubin Dao and Huashan Lu between December 2016 and March 2017.

Farine flour scandal

Fortin's brother David has since started a petition to help him get out of prison.

The petition, created last week, urges French President Emmanuel Macron and Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Yves Le Drian to immediately release 48-year-old Laurent Fortin from prison and raise public awareness of the scandal in France.

"We demand the immediate liberation of Laurent as well as the involvement of the French government," the petition says.

Petition Calls for French Farine Employee's Release from Shanghai Jail

David Fortin writes in the petition that his brother had previously complained about hygiene problems to management since his arrival in December 2016, and claims that friends had previously confirmed Laurent's desire to leave the company. But management are said to have ignored the complaints, allegedly telling Fortin: "we're [just] a startup."

The petition has already collected nearly 4,000 signatures.

David Fortin also told the AFP that his brother has endured tough conditions in prison, and wasn't even provided with a bed or chair during his first days in detention. According to local website, Laurent Fortin has not been allowed to speak to his family, though he has been permitted to write and receive letters. He has been visited French consulate at least five times, the most recent one having taken place on July 26.

If convicted, Laurent Fortin faces up to 15 years in prison.

The scandal was made public in March after 'whistle blowing' allegations were published on Weibo by an individual claiming to be an ex-employee of Farine, who mentioned founder Franck Pécol by name. 

An accompanying video appeared to show product labels with an expiry date of December 2016. The video also showed what appeared to be mold-infested flour baskets near the front of the store, though it is unclear whether these were for use in the bakery. Further allegations made by the user included baked products being stored on mold-covered cloths, staff seiving out mold from raw flour and claims of live rats in the store. 

Farine scandal

Farine scandal

The 30-year-old employee allegedly began working for Farine in October 2016 and recorded his findings over several weeks. He turned the footage into authorities on March 20, the same day the city introduced some of its most stringent food regulations.

In the petition, David Fortin alleges that the "creator and leader" (assumed to be Pécol) fled to London for an "important appointment" a day after being questioned by authorities and two days after the bakery and its production facilities were shut down and searched by police. (Pécol told That's at the time the scandal unfolded that he was in France on a previously planned trip, and Fortin's family told that he was believed to be in the southern city of Perpignan).

Shortly after Pécol left, several employees were detained in police custody following an investigation into the company's warehouses. 

Farine scandal

Farine inspection

Farine later released a statement admitting that its flour was out of date.

All Farine branches were closed following the investigation, and their listings removed from local listing site Dianping

Farine closed

Farine scandal

The rest of the Franck empire — including Pécol's namesake restaurant Franck BistrotGrains (which also houses WIYF), Rachel's and Far-West — soon followed. (Franck Bistrot later reopened, with the "Franck" name completely removed from the restaurant).

Shanghai's Food and Drug Administration has increased the reward for 'whistle blowers' tipping authorities off to food safety incidents to a lucrative RMB300,000.

Follow the latest updates on this story here.

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