The end of a long nightmare.
This Wednesday, Mathias Echène was acquitted by a Hong Kong court at the end of his trial, which began in November 2020. This 51-year-old French entrepreneur, who spent more than three years in prison, had done the subject of a complaint from its former partners for a commercial dispute.
In 2006, the businessman embarked on a luxury villa construction project in Bali (Indonesia) with several extremely wealthy partners (two French and one English, then a Chinese).
But in 2012, as the business developed, his associates accused him of overcharging the site.
A complaint was filed in Hong Kong, where he was briefly arrested with his wife, in June 2012.
Released, Mathias Echène was arrested again in July 2017 in Bali, on the basis of a red notice from Interpol.
This time he is imprisoned in very difficult conditions.
His French lawyers, Clémence Witt and Victor Champey, seized the United Nations working group on arbitrary detention, which concluded in August 2019 that his detention was "contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights".
While the UN demands his immediate release, he was transferred to Hong Kong in September 2019. This extradition then provoked the anger of the French authorities.
In a press release, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, expressed his dissatisfaction.
Incarcerated, this man from Rodez (Aveyron) finally obtained his release on bail in November 2020. This allows him to freely attend his trial after which he has just been acquitted.
“It's a magnificent victory against injustice and slander, react his lawyers, Mes Witt and Champey.
The innocence of Mathias Echène is finally recognized at the end of a procedure marred by serious irregularities, sanctioned both by the United Nations and by the French justice, which has always refused to execute the Hong Kong civil decisions until the Court of Cassation last month.
A few hours after this verdict, Mathias Echène granted us an interview.
Very smiling, he is obviously extremely relieved.
How did you feel when the judge admitted your innocence?
It was just amazing.
I had prepared for the worst-case scenario.
This weekend, I made a final pilgrimage to the beaches of Hong Kong, in case I have to return to detention.
I had prepared my bundle, but in the end I didn't need it.
Life is Beautiful.
How did the announcement of the judgment go?
Arriving this Wednesday morning at the court, the prison supervisor, who attends all the hearings, told me that I had to sit in the box, because it was the rule.
Until then, I had always appeared free, alongside my Hong Kong lawyer.
Even though I wasn't handcuffed, it brought back a lot of bad memories.
Reading of the judgment took 1 hour 30 minutes. At the beginning, the judge went over the prosecution's arguments at length.
Since it was very detailed and he neglected the points in my favor, I figured it was screwed up.
Then, his report was reversed and he recalled all the arguments in favor of my good faith, underlining my desire for transparency.
I started to cry because I understood where he was going.
When I stood up to hear the decision "not guilty" (
note: not guilty
), I was in tears.
Finally it was over.
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What was your first reaction?
I immediately sent a message to my children.
My oldest daughter was very tense this weekend.
Then I went to a restaurant with some friends to drink some champagne.
The weight, which had weighed on my shoulders for so many years, is finally gone.
What does this acquittal mean to you?
The honor of my last name is restored.
I am whitewashed.
It was very hard for me but it was even harder for my children.
They drooled over it, the poor.
They will no longer be stared at by other children at school.
As far as I'm concerned, in nine years, I had built a shell for myself.
But the youth of my children was upset for nothing.
How do you feel for your accusers?
The most absolute contempt.
Honestly, I pity them for being driven only by the lure of money.
They are less than nothing, miserable billionaires.
What are your plans now?
First, come back to France as quickly as possible.
I need to sort out some administrative details and hope to be there within a week.
First of all, I want to find my children and see how to resume a life with them.
Then I will go to Rodez to meet my sisters.
I had a project there (
Editor's note: build a luxury hotel in the former episcopal palace
I was dispossessed of it and today nothing is happening.
It remains my heart project, so it is potentially a lead.
Lots of things are possible.
In any case, I come back full of energy and enthusiasm.
I will be able to rebuild myself and resume a normal life.
What has been the hardest part of all these years?
Prison conditions in Bali were bad, but at least I had my phone and could talk to my relatives every day.
Prison in Hong Kong for 13 months was much harder.
I was only allowed one phone call per ten-minute month.
I wrote to my children every week.
Because of my hip health concerns, I was stuffed with painkillers.
I was 50 years old in detention and it was, I believe, the most difficult time of my life.
Because of the Covid, the date of my trial was constantly postponed.
It was awful, I couldn't see the end of it.
What kept you going?
My children, of course.
And then of course, my innocence.
I never gave up: I knew I was innocent.
I wanted to make the truth triumph.
During all these years, I have also been supported by great people.
By my sisters and my friends, but also by people I did not know.
While in detention in Bali, I made a Lebanese friend for life.
In Hong Kong, consulate staff went beyond mere consular protection.
There is also a man, Patrick, a Frenchman who has lived in Hong Kong for 35 years, who came to visit me in prison after receiving a cry for help from a friend.
I didn't know him, but from the moment we saw each other, he never stopped helping me.
He vouched for my surety and it was he who allowed me to find the apartment where I passed my judicial check.
I have also benefited from the phenomenal work of my lawyers in France and my Hong Kong lawyer.
Many good fairies have looked at me.
Now that I'm free, that's what I want to remember.
We must not despair of humanity.