A French court Monday gave a Burundian diplomat and his wife suspended two-year jail terms and ordered them to pay 70,000 euros (Sh6.2 million) in damages for making a man work in their home in slave-like conditions for a decade.
A court in Nanterre near Paris found Gabriel Mpozagara and his wife Candice guilty of subjecting the man, a fellow Burundian, to “forced labour” and to “undignified work and living conditions”.
The couple, who pleaded not guilty, plan to appeal, said their lawyer, Dominique Naveau-Duchesne, vowing: “We will do what it takes to get the truth out.”
Mpozagara is a former top official at the United Nations’ cultural agency Unesco and an ex-government minister in Burundi.
Lawyers for his employee, Methode Sindayigaya, told the court he was forced to work 19 hours a day, seven days a week in the couple’s home in Ville d’Avray near the posh suburb of Versailles, where he slept in squalid conditions in the basement.
He said his passport was taken from him when he arrived in France in 2008.
“They stole my life,” Sindayigaya told French daily Liberation shortly before the trial opened in September.
With very little sleep, he said, he washed, ironed, cleaned, gardened and took care of the couple’s disabled son.
He was freed by police in July 2018 after workers on a job spotted him at the Mpozagaras’ home and told authorities.
“I am very happy,” Sindayigaya said after Monday’s ruling. “Justice has listened to me.”
Prosecutors had sought jail terms of three years for the couple, with at least one year served behind bars.
Sindayigaya had recounted that the Mpozagaras would not let him tell his wife or two children — aged one and three years old when he left Burundi — any details of his situation during rare telephone calls home.
“They would always ask me, ‘Dad, why don’t you come home? Don’t you love us anymore?'” Sindayigaya told Liberation.
He has since obtained asylum in France and his wife and children have joined him.
Naveau-Duchesne has previously described Sindayigaya as “a friend of the family, who was treated as one of the family.”
The couple had previously appeared in the same court on similar charges involving two young nieces from Burundi. They were initially convicted, but the ruling was reversed on appeal.
The nieces had taken their case to the European Court of Human Rights which in 2012 berated France for failing in its duty to combat forced labour.
The following year, the French parliament passed legislation to outlaw forced labour and enslavement.