A mayor of a tiny village in Normandy has been taken into custody after he was identified as a suspect in Thursday’s assault on Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a French parliamentary candidate and former environment minister.
Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, from the conservative Les Republicans party, was hospitalized following a brief faceoff with a man, identified by police as Vincent Debraize, the mayor of Champignolles, a commune of several dozen residents in Eure department in northern France.
Debraize was detained Saturday morning in Paris on charges of committing “intentional violence against a person conducting public services,” according to Kosciusko-Morizet’s lawyer Xavier Autain, as cited by AFP.
Autain said he expects “a fitting response from the judiciary” for “a serious attack on an elected member of the Republicans.”
Debraize, reportedly, did not intend to cover his tracks and told his staff in Champignolles the day preceding his arrest that he was travelling back to Paris on police summons.
Police said they managed to identify Debraize as the prime suspect “after witness testimony and thanks to video surveillance.”
Debraize did not seem to bother concealing his identity when he approached the politician, commonly referred by her initials, NKM, as she was promoting her candidacy handing out leaflets at a market on Thursday. In plain view of dozens of witnesses, Debraize reportedly yelled, “Stupid bobo” – short for “bourgeois-bohème” – at the woman, then wrested out leaflets and thrust them in her face.
Amidst the altercation, Kosciusko-Morizet lost consciousness, collapsing on the ground, and was rushed to the hospital with a “mild head injury.” She was discharged the following day.
After coming in voluntarily for questioning, Debraize is insisting on his innocence and has pleaded not guilty to the charges of a verbal or physical assault. Kosciusko-Morizet reportedly recognized her assailant on Saturday during a face-to-face meeting, Autain said.
“He [Debraize] is a gentleman who obviously seeks advertising, who is violent and is not very courageous, he does not recognize the facts and has fled as soon as completed his act and he obviously lives very well,” Autain told BMF TV on Saturday.
With no information on the attacker’s motive yet available from the authorities, Le Parisien reported that the mayor was one of 33 elected officials who openly backed Henri Guaino, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s aide, and a candidate in the recent presidential elections. Guaino emerged as a rival to Kosciusko-Morizet in the parliamentary elections, but did not score enough votes to go forward to a second round scheduled for Sunday. Kosciusko-Morizet was more successful, gaining 18.1 percent of the vote in the first round. However, she is projected to lose on Sunday to Gilles Le Gendre, a candidate from French President Macron’s centrist En Marche party, who secured 41.8 percent in the first round of voting.
Speaking after the first round, Kosciusko-Morizet lashed out at Guaino, calling her defeated rival “the useful idiot of Gilles Le Gendre,” during a debate with the latter on Wednesday, broadcast by BFM TV.
For his part, Guaino was quick to dismiss any collision with Debraize, saying that he does not consider himself being “directly or indirectly” responsible for the incident in a comment to French magazine L’Obs.
“I do not know him [Vincent Debraize], I just [came across] him during the parliamentary campaign,” Guaino told the outlet, adding that he would not let anybody exploit the incident to tarnish his reputation.
“Anyone who says the opposite will have to answer for his words in court,” he said.
Meanwhile, the residents of Champignolles are in disbelief that their mayor was capable of such a blatant act of violence.
“I’ve never known him being aggressive, he’s pretty good at running the community, he is more like someone who defends people around him,” Jean-François, a local resident, told BMF TV.