Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the unproven complaint against him for attempted bribery and the conviction of the complainant. No violation of freedom of expression
Campion v. France 14-3-2019 (no. 35255/17),
The case concerned comments made by Marcel Campion to the weekly magazine VSD on account of
which he was found guilty of defaming Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Like the domestic courts, the Court was of the view that Mr Campion had not provided a sufficient
factual basis in order to assert publicly that Mr Strauss-Kahn had committed acts capable of
constituting bribery or trading in influence. The Court found that Mr Campion’s conviction for
instigating public defamation and the monetary penalty imposed on him had not been
disproportionate in relation to the aim pursued, namely the protection of the reputation of others.
The applicant, Marcel Adrien Campion, is a French national, a fairground attraction owner by
profession, who was born in 1940 and lives in Ormesson-sur-Marne.
In the 1990s Mr Campion met Mr Strauss-Kahn (known as “DSK”), who was then Mayor of Sarcelles,
MP for Val d’Oise, and Chairman of the National Assembly’s Finance Committee, to discuss the
take-over of an amusement park in the Val d’Oise area.
Some time later, following a high-profile court case in 2011 concerning Mr Strauss-Kahn in New
York, Mr Campion was interviewed by a journalist from the magazine VSD. The headline of the
interview was “DSK and money. All is revealed. DSK wanted me to give him 5 million francs” and the
sub-heading “Marcel Campion had asked the politician for help in taking over an amusement park:
but it didn’t work out …”.
On 9 February 2012 Mr Strauss-Kahn filed a criminal complaint for defamation, seeking to join the
proceedings as a civil party, against the director of the magazine, the journalist and Mr Campion.
In a judgment of 21 March 2014 the court declared the three of them guilty of defamation, the first
as the perpetrator and the others as accomplices. They were each fined 2,000 euros, the sentence
being suspended for Mr Campion, and ordered to pay damages. The court found that Mr Campion
was unable to provide any evidence to support the comments he had made public. No direct or
indirect witness had been able to confirm comments attributed to Mr Strauss-Kahn. As regards the
journalist, the court found that she had endorsed the defamatory allegations made by Mr Campion,
in breach of her duty to carry out a serious investigation into them.
The Court of Appeal upheld the judgment, indicating that the defamatory nature of the comments
had not been disputed by the applicant, who had not offered any evidence of his allegations. It
added that the witnesses who had testified had merely confirmed comments made by Mr Campion,
without authenticating them. The Court of Cassation found that the comments had no factual basis.
THE DECISION OF THE COURT
The Court found that the offending comments had consisted of an accusation that Mr Strauss-Kahn
had demanded a considerable sum of money in return for his help with the take-over of an
amusement park. It took the view that this was a factual allegation that had to be shown to be true.
The Court reiterated that the more serious the allegation, the stronger the factual basis had to be.
The Court observed, like the domestic courts, that in giving details of the bribery and attributing it to
a named individual Mr Campion should have expected to be asked to produce material confirming
his allegations. The domestic courts, while taking account of the fact that the applicant was not a
media professional, found that he had failed to produce any material capable of substantiating his
The Court found that, in requiring the applicant to provide material confirming his allegations –
which were particularly serious – the French courts had not overstepped their margin of
Lastly, the Court did not consider the penalties to have been excessive or to have had a chilling
effect. The applicant had been given a suspended sentence consisting of a 2,000 euro (EUR) fine and
had been ordered to pay EUR 1,500 in damages, jointly with the publication director and the
The interference with Mr Campion’s right to freedom of expression had therefore been necessary in
a democratic society in order to protect the reputation of others. The application was thus
inadmissible as manifestly ill-founded(echrcaselaw.com).