French Mayor 'Forced Tourists Past His Shops'

French Mayor 'Forced Tourists Past His Shops'

The mayor of French landmark Mont Saint Michel - one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world - has been accused of profiting by forcing millions of tourists to walk past his shops and restaurants.

Eric Vannier owns around 80% of the businesses on the mount and 20% of those on the adjoining coast, earning him 29 million euros (£25m) a year, according to France 24.

He is alleged to have changed the route of shuttle buses to the famed rocky island and its Gothic-style Benedictine abbey so tourists would pass his establishments - including Hotel de la Digue and the Relais Saint Michel, another hotel. 

The move, which took effect last April, means tourists being ferried between the mainland car park and the mount have to walk 900 metres to a bus stop to be shuttled to the rock.

"The departure point is right in the middle of two businesses run by Mr Vannier," prosecutor Renaud Gaudeul told Coutances criminal court in Normandy, adding that the move "had a direct impact on his businesses".

He called on the judge to impose a suspended six-month prison sentence and a 30,000 euro (£26,000) fine on the mayor.

Vannier, who was elected mayor of Mont Saint Michel in 1983 until 2001, and again in 2008 until present - denies any conflict of interest.

The 60-year-old told the court: "I truly defended the public interest, as always."

The court case is the result of a complaint filed by a political and business rival of Vannier, former Mont Saint Michel mayor Patrick Gaulois, who was in office between 2001 and 2008.

A ruling is expected on February 27.

A Unesco World Heritage site, Mont Saint Michel is visited by more than 2.5 million tourists each year.

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