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Morocco.- Sexual harrassment trial against French businessman

Sara (not her real name), alleged victim of Jacques Bouthier scrolling through her phone   -  
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You look like you just came out of a nightclub but I like it! According to Sara, a former employee of a Moroccan subsidiary of the brokerage giant Assu 2000, it was with these words that the former French boss Jacques Bouthier addressed her for the first time.

Sara (first name changed) and six Moroccan colleagues have filed a complaint against the businessman and several of his collaborators targeted by a vast sexual harassment investigation in Morocco.

A new hearing took place on Thursday before an investigating judge in Tangier (northern Morocco) during which a confrontation between suspects and complainants took place, said a lawyer.

The 75-year-old businessman, one of France's great fortunes, was indicted and imprisoned on May 21 in Paris with five other people in another case.

For Sara, 28, it was in the summer of 2018 that the "nightmare" began.

"When he (Jacques Bouthier) came to Morocco, he always came by to say hello to all the employees," recalls Sara, a former sales agent at Euro Assurance, a subsidiary of Assu 2000 located in Tangier.

"That day, I was wearing shorts. He shook my hand, looked insistently at my thighs and then told me that I looked like I had just come out of a nightclub and that he liked it".

"I was shocked but his remarks seemed normal to everyone else. I was told 'It's Jacques, he always says things like that'", says Sara, who worked for four years for the Moroccan branch of Assu 2000 (since renamed Vilavi).

- The "Bouthier system" -

At the time, the young woman preferred to keep a low profile and passed the sponge over the inappropriate remarks of the boss, without suspecting that he would be incarcerated in France for human trafficking and rape of minors. The ex-CEO contests these facts.

The Moroccan complainants are denouncing a "Bouthier system".

Nine executives of the insurance group (three French and six Moroccans, including two women) are under investigation in Tangiers. Six are in provisional detention, the other three at large.

AFP has not been able to reach the defense of the accused.

Sara's troubles worsen in 2020 when, following a "complaint" from a disgruntled customer, Jacques Bouthier takes the opportunity to ask her to send him photos and harass her.

She refuses but he returns to the charge by demanding that she presents him "a little sister, a cousin or a girlfriend" against a "beautiful gift".

"In my answers I was diplomatic because I was afraid to lose my job, but in my head it was out of question to enter his game", she says.

The next day, Sara decided to talk to her superiors, who did not take her seriously. "One of them even told me that it was my fault".

Mr. Bouthier resurfaced a few months later and asked to see Sara "in a private setting, but I did not give in," she assures, showing WhatsApp messages she exchanged with the French boss.

- "The fight continues" -

When, after three years at Euro Assurances, the young Moroccan asked for a promotion, her superiors retorted that "Jacques is not happy".

"I understood that I had no future in this company if I continued to refuse his advances," says Sara.

"I felt guilty, I didn't feel good. I had suicidal thoughts because the work environment was so heavy," she adds.

In the spring of 2020, a trip to Panama offered by the company to some of its employees threw her into disarray.

"During the trip, I was constantly getting remarks about what I was wearing. He said I was naughty, that I had nice breasts. It was unbearable," she recalls.

With his return to Tangier, the mental health of Sara degrades. A psychiatrist puts her in sick leave during 15 days. "Two days before I went back to work, the Bouthier scandal broke in France. I was not surprised", she remembers.

The voice of young employees then began to be released on a Facebook group. With the support of the Moroccan Association for Victims' Rights, seven of them filed a complaint.

"It was a big step! Alone, I would have been crushed. The fact that we are all together, even if we didn't know each other before, is reassuring", says Sara, who says she is "starting to get her head above water". But the "fight continues until justice is done".

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