Judge suspended for exposing corruption

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The Independent Online
A STATE prosecutor and two senior detectives have been suspended and placed under investigation in Toulon.

Their alleged crime? To have leaked to the press details of investigations of corruption among local politicians, including officials at the National Front-controlled town hall.

Their real crime? To have challenged the cosy relationships between politicians (of left, right and far-right), organised crime and the judiciary - which have made the Toulon area a byword for intrigue and corruption.

There seems little doubt that Judge Albert Levy, substitute chief prosecutor in Toulon, is technically guilty. He was the subject of a six-month investigation by his own colleagues - using bugging devices and concealed body microphones - to prove that he was leaking details of his cases to the press.

Leaking information on a criminal investigation is a serious offence, but one committed by nearly all publicity-conscious prosecutors and investigating judges in France. If the law was to be applied uniformly, awkward questions would have to be asked of scores of magistrates all over the country, including those in charge of the year-old investigation of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

A book by two French journalists quotes verbatim from witness statements made to Judge Herve Stephan, the man in charge of the Diana inquiry. No official action was taken.

This is precisely the accusation made against Mr Levy: the leaking of witness statements to a local journalist, Claude Ardid, of the newspaper Nice-Matin, who has also been placed under investigation. The investigating judge brought in from Paris to examine the evident even accused Mr Levy of being mentally unstable because he "saw fascists everywhere in Toulon". Mr Levy's imagination may not be so fevered as all that: Toulon is one of five towns controlled by the far-right National Front, and has long had a reputation as one of the most racially intolerant towns in France.

The accused judge's lawyer, Alain Jakubowicz, said the case was "pure delirium ... A complete injustice. Even if the facts are proven, everyone knows that witness statements circulate everywhere ... This is a settling of scores".

Mr Levy, a brisk-looking man with metal-rimmed spectacles and a neat moustache, had made several attacks on what he called the "mafia politicians" of the Toulon area. He was especially hostile to the National Front. But he also criticised the passivity of his own colleagues, especially what he called the "nonchalance" of the judicial investigation into the murder of a local MP, Yann Piat.

The National Front MP, who defected to the centre-right, was shot while investigating links between politics and crime. A gang of local hoodlums was convicted of her murder this year, but it remains open to question whether gang members could have acted alone.

The information leaked to Mr Ardid concerned alleged kick-backs to Toulon town hall for the letting of contracts for school meals. The journalist published a verbatim account of the evidence given to Mr Levy by Serge Catalano, a local businessman and former president of the town's football club.