Charb’s Companion Speaks of Troubling Mystery

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Revelations by the girlfriend of the assassinated Charlie Hebdo editor leave some troubling questions dangling

The question of just who was the companion of Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb) when he died became a point of confusion as the title was claimed by Jeannette Bougrab, before being denied by Charb’s family.

The one who was his partner for the last four years of his life, it seems, was a woman who remains out of the spotlight and is known as “Valérie M”.

In a recent interview with Le Parisien, she has broken her silence to talk publicly about troubling contacts that Charb had with mysterious Middle-Eastern businessmen before he died.

“I don’t want to be in the limelight but I do want to know the truth,” said Valérie.

On the 7th of January last – the morning of the shocking attack by the Kouachi brothers – it is by her side that the editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo awoke. Her position as Charb’s partner gave her a unique insight into the personality and personal life of the slain cartoonist. Under cover of anonymity, she agreed to talk about the last days spent with the journalist, which were marked by some troubling events.

An image published in Paris Match magazine, showing former politician Jeanette Bougrab with Charb and her 10-year-old daughter on New Year's Eve last. Charb's family have denied her claims of being Charb's girlfriend.

An image published in Paris Match magazine, showing former politician Jeanette Bougrab with Charb and her 10-year-old daughter on New Year’s Eve last. Charb’s family have denied her claims of being Charb’s girlfriend.

– How did your relationship begin?
We had a friend in common. I met Charb for the first time ten years ago, without anything happening. I saw him again for a longer period in 2010, and things progressed naturally from there. I live far away from Paris, so our relationship wasn’t a continuous one as a result, even though it became more serious towards the end. Be that as it may, you must understand that Charb rejected the very notion of a serious relationship and saw himself as an eternal bachelor. Just like affairs he had with other women, there was nothing exclusive about ours.

– How was his state of mind during the days leading up to the attack?
We were together two evenings before, the evening before and the morning of the drama. For the main part, there wasn’t anything abnormal that stood out. Charb had slightly loosened the shackles of his protection and often gave his bodyguards the slip. He was supposed to inform them of all his movements, but he only did it rarely, apart from his public appearances and his journeys to the newspaper, when he was driven in a car by them. He got on very well with the policemen – some even became friends – but that permanent presence weighed heavily on him. He actually put in a request to the Ministry of the Interior for permission to carry a weapon shortly before the attack. He wanted to be able to protect himself as well as going back to a more normal life. Cycling, for example, was something that he missed.

– What happened on the morning of the attack?
We spent the night at his place, in the Montorgueil area. After waking, Charb went to get croissants in the local boulangerie. When he came back, he looked worried: he told me that he had spotted a car parked below the building with tinted windows – a Peugeot or a Renault… I can’t remember which one. He wasn’t the kind of person to get worried over nothing, but that did worry him. He kept saying: “That car’s a bit strange”. The conversation digressed and he told me that he didn’t receive too many threatening letters for some months and that it might be an idea to review his security requirements with the police. After that, he left for the editorial meeting. He was planning to come back and work from home after that. I left the apartment about an hour and a half later, without a key, closing the door after me. Who was in that car? The Kouachi brothers? Their accomplices? I spoke about this incident with the police officers who interviewed me and I wrote to the investigating judge this summer to remind him of this element of the investigation but there hasn’t been any response since.

– Was “Charlie Hebdo” under threat of its very existence?
It was, financially. During the Autumn of 2014, the financial state of health of the paper was catastrophic. Charb was telling me that he had to find €200,000 before the end of the year in order to avoid the publication closing in 2015. The appeal for donations hadn’t been enough to put the accounts in order. He had set about looking for money all over the place, without talking about the situation much with his friends in “Charlie” because he didn’t want to worry them. During this search, he was put in touch with different people including several businessmen, particularly guys from the Middle East, with whom he spent a number of evening engagements. He never wanted to tell me who the contact was that set up these meetings. He simply referred to him as “my contact”. When he came back home from these meetings, he used to laugh, saying that he was using all his charm on them, that these people were capable of throwing down €100,000 the way most people spend a tenner. I never knew either who these rich businessmen were.

Private fundraiser? Charb was fighting for the very survival of Charlie Hebdo before his death

Private fundraiser? Charb was fighting for the very survival of Charlie Hebdo before his death

– Why do you think that this part of the story is important?
Because on the eve of the attack, Charb told me that he had managed to find the money he needed. I asked him how and he said: “Those soirées where I worked my charm on wealthy dignitaries? Well, they finally paid off!” I didn’t ask for any more detail but I did say that it might be dangerous. He said that he needed to agree with the suppliers of the paper to settle the outstanding invoices. Today, I can’t help finding this coincidence worrying. Who paid? Where is this money and how was it paid? Could there be a link with the events of the 7th of January? The investigator ought to be interested in all of that.

– You also alerted the police about a “mysterious” burglary?
The Saturday after the events, I went back with Charb’s brother and a few close friends to his apartment. We discovered that someone had been there before us. The place had been ransacked and stuff had been taken, including drawings and his laptop. I reckoned that it was vital to get that computer back, which surely contained information that would be useful to the enquiry. However, I was to find that the officers who took my statement didn’t seem at all interested by this episode. Such a burglary at the home of the murdered victim a few days after the incident… surely it merits some further investigation?

– Why are you coming public now?
Because I have the feeling that the truth about the attack on Charlie Hebdo is still not fully known and I want to do everything possible to get it all out in the open. I’m amazed that the investigators are not looking to see if other persons or other interests could be behind the Kouachi brothers. One cannot be happy with the singular theory of Islamist terrorism.

Who did Charb meet to try and rescue Charlie Hebdo? When quizzed about this subject, several of those close to him admit that they didn’t know the identity of his evening associates.

“He had told me that he indeed needed about €200,000 to keep the coffers afloat,” recalls the emergency doctor Patrick Pelloux, a columnist with Charlie Hebdo and close friend of Charb. “I also know that he was struggling to find that money, even though he was very discreet about it. He told me that he was seeing rich people – bankers, businessmen and the like but I never knew who exactly they were. In any case, he had said to me laughing that certain people he was seeing were not exactly Charlie Hebdo material, but that the main task for him was to save Charlie Hebdo.

Another of his close allies who preferred to remain anonymous confirms this discreet quest for rescue funds: “It was a touchy subject for Charb”, said the anonymous source, who also wasn’t able to say anything about the identity of these potential donors.

“What is certain is that during the last few days, he was delighted that the campaign for readers’ donations had worked well, bringing in about €170,000,” says the same source.

Another member of the Charlie team who also wanted to remain anonymous thinks that this notion of a discreet fund-raising campaign amongst private wealthy individuals is far-fetched:

“I don’t believe it at all. It really is any old nonsense.” He points out that the statutes of Charlie only allow donations and specifically exclude any outside investment other than from employees of the paper. “I can’t see one of these rich businessmen putting money into an enterprise without expecting any kind of return on their investment.”

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