Domestic violence row forces French police chief in Noumea to stand down

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Colonel Eric Steiger
Colonel Eric Steiger ... controversy forced his resignation. Image: Mediapart

Asia Pacific Report newsdesk

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has criticised the circumstances which led to last week’s resignation of the new French police commander in New Caledonia, Colonel Eric Steiger.

RNZ News reports that Steiger resigned after public anger in New Caledonia over a report by French media that he had been convicted for domestic violence.

Political leaders across the spectrum and women’s groups had urged Paris to recall Steiger.

Among critics was Sonia Backès, president of the Southern Province local government, who said on Facebook that Steiger’s appointment was ‘incompatible” with the position.

“In a country where 22 percent of women are victims of violence, and where the institutions have placed the fight against intra-family violence as a territorial issue, the decision to change the head of the gendarmerie in New Caledonia should be made without hesitation,” she said.

Colonel Steiger, who was recently appointed to head the archipelago’s gendarmerie, was convicted on appeal on May 28, 2021, for “willful violence against a spouse”.

In a televised comment, minister Darmanin said he was opposed to witchhunts which had made the commander the “target of a cabal”, noting that Steiger was not jailed.

On appeal, Steiger’s suspended prison sentence was converted into a 6000 euro fine.

Admitted the facts
In February 2020, Steiger had been sentenced to six months suspended prison sentence but had appealed.

During the second trial, Steiger admitted the facts and declared “his behavior towards his wife had been violent and he wanted to recognise his responsibility”.

The General Directorate of the National Gendarmerie told the French investigative website Mediapart the circumstances were a “painful context of separation of the couple after 20 years of living together”.

Steiger’s former wife Marlène Schiappa told Mediapart reporter Pascale Pascariello she questioned how a violent man could be given such a position in New Caledonia.

According to The Pacific Newsroom, she graphically described Steiger’s verbal humiliation and physical violence which saw the eldest daughter of the couple forced to intervene to protect her mother, as she would confirm during the investigation.
Colonel Steiger’s lawyer, Thibault de Montbrial, told the website “there was violence but no beatings, otherwise the sentence would have been different. Eric Steiger is not a “slugger of women”.

Minister Darmanin said a new commander would be appointed soon.

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