Is That a Chateau Lafitte in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?
In late November, Hong Kong and French news media were abuzz with a juicy report that the French Consul General in the S.A.R. had been recalled and suspended from his duties over the alleged theft of one or more bottles of expensive wine from a private club in the territory.
As is often the case with matters involving alleged criminal misconduct by members of the diplomatic corps in any location, news reports were short on hard facts and official comment, and long on details provided by “sources knowledgeable about the matter.”
Still, there were some details common enough in all the news media reports to give us a basic picture of what apparently transpired.
The Consul General, a handsome, dapper 46-year old, was apparently filmed by a closed circuit security television (CCTV) camera slipping an expensive bottle of wine into his trousers at the exclusive Hong Kong Country Club. To make matters worse, it was not the first time.
The dashing diplomat, known for his high-flying political connections in Paris, might have once entertained dreams of a film career. On the other hand, most of the leading experts recommend against starting one’s acting career on the CCTV platform.
Commentary on the case in Hong Kong ranged across the spectrum, from those sympathetic to his career and reputation imploding overnight, to the those who said “Serves him right!”.
Among the sympathetic voices, there were those who commented on the dramatic recent rise in the prices of expensive wines, French wines in particular, due in part to China’s growing taste for the tipple, matched by the enormous new spending power of China’s affluent, and the search by these folks for new investment vehicles, especially those which rise quickly in value while at the same time making you tipsy.
The sympathetic view of the case was centered on the image of a well-meaning French public servant, paid less than his counterparts in the business world, and yet expected to travel in elite social circles and entertain in appropriate style. Wine prices being sky-high today, he was resorting to desperate means to keep up the appearances expected of him in line with his official duties. A tragic error of judgment in the circumstances cost him and his family dearly : his job, his reputation, and quite possibly, his career.
I have not done formal research on this, but based on some informal work, I would estimate that of Hong Kong’s population of roughly 7 million people, there must be at least 2 ½ people who took the sympathetic view.
The rest of the 6.9 million-plus people would say “Serves him right!”. People seemed to take delight in this high-flying chap getting caught in the act and banished.
It’s interesting that if we look at history, two phenomena tend to gain traction in public attitudes at times when a significant part of any population is experiencing economic pain and uncertainty. One is “blame the foreigners” and the other is “blame the officials.”
But that’s another discussion.
No doubt the former Consul General is deep in reflection now about lessons learned through this sad misadventure, one of which must no doubt be to pay closer attention in future to the difference between those ceiling-mounted fire sprinklers and CCTV security cameras.
There remains one aspect of this story which none of the press reports which I have seen has examined in detail, and it is a crucial and fascinating one.
According to the report by the leading French newspaper Le Monde, quoting “sources close to the case”, the former Consul General apparently hid the wine in his trousers before removing it from the Club’s restaurant.
Seems fairly straightforward at first glance, but…
Wait just one moment, please. The average bottle of wine is about 12 inches tall and nearly 10 inches in circumference. Even for a Frenchman, that’s a huge object to be carrying around in your trousers.
The mind boggles.