Commercial Web Site Could be Sued After ‘Free money’ Stunt

November 18, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015
MISSED MONEY: People gather near the Eiffel Tower, waiting for French marketing company Mailorama hostesses to deliver envelopes of cash (a total of 5,000 envelopes containing between 5 to 500 euros each), on November 14, in Paris, as part of a French mar (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images)
MISSED MONEY: People gather near the Eiffel Tower, waiting for French marketing company Mailorama hostesses to deliver envelopes of cash (a total of 5,000 envelopes containing between 5 to 500 euros each), on November 14, in Paris, as part of a French mar (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS, France—A promotional event during which money would be handed out to people in Paris on Saturday turned violent when the police decided to stop the event before it happened. More than 7,000 people had gathered near the Eiffel Tower. Lawsuits have been filed against the rioters and French Justice Minister Brice Hortefeux announced preparations for a new law imposing a moratorium on the handing out of money.

The handout was canceled for safety reasons by the police after violence erupted and people crossed security barriers. The cancellation announcement was followed by sparks of violence, smashing of shop windows, and destruction of several cars.

Marketing Web site Mailorama had been forced to call off its plan to distribute 40,000 euros (US$60,000) in envelopes containing 5 to 500 euros (US$7–$744) in cash each. More than 7,000 excited people had shown up near the Eiffel Tower, where the event was organized.

To date, 11 lawsuits have been filed, explained Paris police to Le Parisien newspaper. “Four complaints were filed for robbery, three for voluntary violence, three for material damages, and one for theft,” according to the newspaper.

On Monday, Rentabiliweb, the organizing company and owner of the Mailorama Web site, denied responsibility and insisted that Maillorama had received a formal and written authorization from Paris police to organize the event.

“Without that, and without the express authorization from police officials, without the warranty given that everything would be done to prevent any disruption to public order, Rentaliweb would not have taken the initiative of the friendly and benign ‘cash back,’“ according to a Nov. 14 press release by Rentabiliweb.

Paris police officials, however, claim that the company attempted to shift its responsibility. “The legal framework for such events is not an authorization but a mere declaration from the organizers. We had informed them that risks were significant and that they had to plan a good security,” Paris police said.

Michele Alliot-Marie, French justice minister, is now expecting “strong sanctions” and has announced that her office could sue Rentabiliweb, a move that M. Ferrida, lawyer of the company, said he will be waiting for with “amusement.”

Brice Hortefeux, French interior minister, has announced that he would prepare a new law that would make the hand-out of money an act punishable by six months in prison, a statement apparently illustrating that in France a new law can be passed in response to almost any particular event. “And I also decided to ask this company to pay. There is no way that our citizens have to pay [for the damages],” explained Hortefeux on Europe 1 radio.

Two robbers who attacked passers-by during the event will go to court next January. Rentabiliweb has stated that the overall budget of the money stunt, totaling 100,000 euros (US$ 148,739), would be offered to the Secours Populaire, a French charity organization.