Court may steal Miss France's crown

Miss France could be stripped of her crown as a court decision over claims of cheating is due on Friday.

Miss Albigeois-Midi-Pyrvànvàes Chlovà Mortaud smiles after being crowned Miss France 2009 during the 62nd edition of the beauty contest in Le Puy-du -Fou on December 6, 2008.  AFP PHOTO/ALAIN JOCARD
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PARIS // Chloé Mortaud, the daughter of a black US-born mother and white French father, has ample reason to be satisfied with the first half of her year as Miss France, an honour she has frequently heard described as a reflection of the "Obamania" that gripped France when the United States elected its first black president.

With her undoubted glamour and engaging personality, Ms Mortaud has so far proved a popular winner capable of representing France overseas, promising - in a level of expression not always associated with beauty queens - to "incarnate today's French diversity".

She has visited the Middle East for the first time in her life, takes part in Miss Universe in Bahamas in August and is about to make her debut as a television presenter. One cloud darkens Miss France's horizon: her reign could be cut short by a court decision due on Friday, less than a week after Barack Obama's first appearance in France as president.

Ms Mortaud, 19, a student of international commerce, has been surrounded by controversy since she won the title on Dec 6 during a live television show seen by more than eight million viewers one month after Mr Obama's triumph.

She hardly had time to celebrate her success before Marine Beaury, whom she defeated in a regional contest to become Miss Albigeois mid-Pyrénées, claimed to have been cheated out of winning the title herself, a victim of "cronyism" because Ms Mortaud's parents had worked with members of the jury.

Bizarrely, another Miss France contestant, Miss Guadeloupe, then alleged that Ms Mortaud had caused her to trip embarrassingly during the finals.

And in March, the television magazine Télé 2 Semaines reported that the votes of more than 520,000 viewers were effectively wasted because the seven personalities making up the jury overruled their preferences - which would have left Ms Mortaud in fourth place at best - by voting unanimously for her.

The supposed trip and the suggestion of unfairness in the final voting are strongly denied, but neither plays any part in the case on which no less than the sixth civil chamber of the Grand Tribunal of the First Instance in Nanterre, on the outskirts of Paris, will rule this week. The court is concerned solely with the regional contest. She was sufficiently impressed during her short time in Qatar to hope for further opportunities to see the Middle East. All of this, and the development of a broadcasting career expected to start on June 24 when she co-presents a show about the world's most famous people, may rest on the outcome of Friday's court hearing. crandall@thenational.ae

Although some observers say it would be astonishing if, midway through Ms Mortaud's year, the court delivered a verdict casting the competition into disarray, a decision in favour of Ms Beaury would not only invalidate the regional contest but automatically remove Ms Mortaud's eligibility as a candidate for Miss France.

Both Ms Mourtaud and the Miss France organisation make light of the threat, rejecting allegations that the regional vote was rigged with the winner chosen in advance. In court, the committee's lawyer described the claims as "totally absurd" and said Ms Beaury should not only lose her case but face sanctions for "improper procedure".

However, at a press conference in Paris, Ms Beaury insisted that the vote in the regional contest was not properly scrutinised.

She said that although she had been accused by Geneviève de Fontenay, president of the Miss France committee, of being a bad loser, "I play sport and in sport you learn how to lose".

The Miss France contest is hardly a stranger to trouble. Last year's winner, Valérie Bègue from the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion, officially part of France, did not perform the customary role of crowning her successor, having fallen out of favour after suggestive photographs were published after her election.

Ms Mortaud restricted herself in a telephone interview to saying: "I am not concerned about the case and I am not going to lose my title." She much preferred to talk about her belief that mixed races are the future of mankind - and about the tenuous presidential link that has led some in the media to call her "Miss Obama". "My election and his are not the same at all," she said. "Mine was small, small. His was big, big. I never made the connection, but it was made because a lot of people in France thought I won because of Barack Obama. "But yes, I am French-American, I am black, mixed race and I am very happy to have a black president of America. "My mother and grandmother suffered discrimination when young; I have not, but I can feel through them how painful it was. I think it's wonderful to be mixed race and believe we will see more and more in the future as people from different groups increasingly get together."

Earlier in her reign, Ms Mortaud travelled to Doha to promote designer watches.

She also flew to the United States, a guest of the French Embassy, for Mr Obama's inauguration, and was surprised to find people had heard of her election. She was sufficiently impressed during her short time in Qatar to hope for further opportunities to see the Middle East.

All of this, and the development of a broadcasting career expected to start on June 24 when she co-presents a show about the world's most famous people, may rest on the outcome of Friday's court hearing

crandall@thenational.ae