French consul general recalled to Paris, placed under investigation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 November, 2010, 12:00am

France's top diplomat in Hong Kong and Macau has been suspended and recalled to Paris.

Consul General Marc Fonbaustier, 46, was recalled earlier this week for conduct 'that would likely not meet the requirements of professional conduct for a French diplomat', foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in Paris on Thursday.

'The consul general of France for Hong Kong and Macau was recalled and immediately left his post,' Valero said.

'He is suspended from duty. An administrative investigation has been started based on the circumstances behind the decision.'

Valero and consulate spokeswoman Audrey Pion did not answer questions about whether Fonbaustier (left) broke any laws in Hong Kong or Macau.

A local associate of Fonbaustier's said all appeared well with the consul general last Saturday, but on Monday morning the diplomat abruptly called his staff together at the consulate and announced he was leaving Hong Kong that night 'for personal reasons'.

His wife and three children are in the process of moving out of the official French residence on The Peak.

The French consulate posted notice of Fonbaustier's departure on the French version of its website on Wednesday, saying he 'needed to leave his post and return to Paris urgently', and his biography was removed from the website. His deputy, Agnes Humruzian, is acting consul general.

Diplomatic circles in Hong Kong were buzzing with speculation yesterday as consulates and the government's Protocol Division were informed of Fonbaustier's departure.

One diplomat described the sudden recall of the flamboyant envoy, who is known to be close to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, as a 'dramatic' move that was extremely rare in Hong Kong's diplomatic history.

Fonbaustier took over as consul general on September 1 last year after working for more than 15 years in the foreign service. He received his diploma from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris and continued his education at the University of Paris-Dauphine, where he studied financial markets, commodity markets and risk management.

He began his public service career by training at the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, followed by posts in France and overseas.

Fonbaustier served as first secretary to the Permanent Representation of France to the European Union in Brussels, then second counsellor in Rome and minister counsellor in New Delhi before moving to Hong Kong. In October, he was made a knight of the Ordre National du Merite, an honour conferred by the French president for distinguished civil or military achievement.

While there have been cases of diplomats being recalled unexpectedly after short stints in Hong Kong, such as when former US consul general Joseph Donovan was recalled to Washington to become principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Fonbaustier's case is different, as he has returned to France to be investigated.

Fonbaustier is known within his circle in Hong Kong as a man who loves wine and leads a colourful life.

His wife, Italian artist Gabriella Montanari, specialises in painting and the creation of plastic art.

Her love of art is shared by her husband, who decorated their living room in the official French residence with decorative face masks from around the world.

Fonbaustier once told visitors that he loved collecting masks because 'they show the many faces of the diplomat.'