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'Dentist of horror' goes on trial in France

A Dutch man is facing charges of violence and fraud after allegedly injuring some 120 patients while practicing dentistry in France. Patients accuse him of taking out healthy teeth, breaking jaws, and causing infections.

The trial of the 51-year old Jacobus van Nierop started on Tuesday in the French town of Nevers, near the village of Chateau-Chinon where van Nierop first set up in 2008.

The Dutch dentist stands accused of aggravated assault and fraud, with prosecutors arguing that he attempted to rip off both his patients and their insurance companies. He hid his face under a blanket as he arrived at the court on Tuesday.

Locals in the Chateau-Chinon area initially welcomed van Nierop, as the village was sorely lacking in health services. A neighbor described the dentists as a smiley, larger-than-life character, with a "big 4x4, a big dog, a big cigar."

By 2011, however, the officials grew interested in his accounting process, with rumors of malpractice spreading among his patients.

Rumors of mutilation

The 65-year-old Sylviane Boulesteix visited the dentist in March 2012 to have braces fitted.

"He gave me seven or eight injections, and pulled out eight teeth in one go. I was gushing blood for three days," she said. Another patient, 80-year-old Bernard Hugon, said the dentist left "pieces of flesh hanging everywhere" after tearing out a tooth.

Frau beim Zahn Arzt

Van Nierop worked for several years in the remote region

Other patients accused him of leaving behind pieces of dental tools, causing recurrent infections and injuries, and pulling out healthy teeth.

"Every time, he would give us what he called 'a little prick' and we were asleep, knocked out," said Nicole Martin, a retired teacher who lost several teeth to abscesses. "When it was over, we would find a Post-it note saying to come back for an appointment the next day or the day after."

Martin later set up a support group for patients in 2013, with the help of one of van Nierop's assistants. The association gradually grew to include 120 alleged victims.

Van Nierop was arrested in June 2013, but police later released him pending trial. He then fled France, prompting an international search warrant.

'He played crazy'

The authorities eventually located him in the small Canadian town of New Brunswick in September 2014. The dentist tried to slit his throat when faced with the police, according to the local media.

After his arrest in Canada, Van Nierop tried to block his extradition claiming to suffer from "psychological problems" including gender identity issues and suicidal tendencies.

"He tried everything" to avoid extradition, Martin said. "He claimed to have killed his first wife, he played crazy, he said he was trans-sexual."

Eventually, the authorities placed him in a prison psychiatric unit in the Loiret department, south of Paris.

Dutch media also reported that Van Nierop was investigated in his native Netherlands before coming to France.

If convicted, he could face a prison sentence of up to 10 years and six-figure fines.

dj/msh (AFP, AP)