French perfume maker convicted of racism

(AP) PARIS - A French court convicted longtime perfume maker Jean-Paul Guerlain on Thursday of making racist insults on national television and fined him euro6,000 ($8,000).

The 75-year-old Guerlain, an heir to his family's cosmetics empire, provoked anger among French minorities with comments in an October 2010 interview on France-2 television. He used a French word for black people in a derogatory expression as he described how hard he worked to create one of the company's most famed perfumes, Samsara.

The perfumer was also ordered to pay an additional euro6,000 ($8,000) in damages, split to the three anti-racism groups that filed legal complaints.

The comments had prompted protests before Guerlain store on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue, with some calling for a boycott of Guerlain products.

Lawyers for SOS Racism said Guerlain abused the national platform he was given.

"The most important is the condemnation," said SOS Racism lawyer Patrick Klugman. "(The fine) is not going to bankrupt Mr. Guerlain, not by a long shot, but that's not what we wanted."

Guerlain apologized to France's black community during the trial, calling it an "imbecilic" remark.

"I am from another generation," he said standing before the court with the help of crutches, so the remark was partly "a common expression at the time."

"I was anything but racist," he said, adding that he "wanted to make the journalist laugh and I regret it."

The judge, who convicted him in a Paris court, did not sentence him to any prison time, although he could have faced up to six months behind bars and euro22,500 ($29,900) in fines.

However, this is not the only accusation of racism the perfume heir has faced.

In February, three French Eurostar workers accused him of making anti-immigrant slurs at Paris' Gare du Nord train station as they helped him get on a train with his wheelchair.

The perfume company has distanced itself from Guerlain, who had retired at 65 but has remained a consultant.

Guerlain is the great-great-grandson of the founder of the Guerlain cosmetics company, now owned by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

LVMH was also embarrassed last year when designer John Galliano — who worked for LVMH subsidiary Christian Dior — was convicted of anti-Semitic comments.