Papon allowed to be free during trial

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The Independent Online
Maurice Papon, the Vichy official on trial in Bordeaux for "crimes against humanity", may never serve another day in jail, even if he is convicted. The court decided yesterday that Mr Papon, 87, should be freed during his trial, in deference to his advanced age and medical condition. Under French law, this ruling will also apply if he is convicted and sentenced to prison but lodges an immediate appeal. Such an appeal could last for several years. It took 16 years to bring the present trial to court.

Relatives of some of the 1,558 Jews who were arrested on Papon's orders, and died in Nazi concentration camps, protested bitterly against the court judgment yesterday. At their lawyers' demand, the trial was suspended until Monday. Rene Jacob, one of several people who have started civil actions against Papon, said: "The worst of all is that whatever the court finally decides, if Maurice Papon takes the case to appeal, he will probably die peacefully at home ... There is nothing more to be done. I'm going home to send back my military papers. As of tonight, I am no longer Jewish nor French."

During his third night in jail on Thursday, Mr Papon was taken ill with suspected heart trouble. He was moved to a hospital but was well enough to appear in court yesterday. The presiding judge, to general surprise, announced yesterday afternoon that he had rejected medical advice that Mr Papon should remain in custody, but in hospital, until the trial ended in December. The court decided instead to accept the demands of Mr Papon's lawyers that he be freed unconditionally.

The court said it had taken the decision because there was "no risk of flight", no chance that Papon would pressurise witnesses (most of whom are dead) and because of his great age and medical condition. Papon, who went on after the war to become Paris police chief and French budget minister, is suffering from acute angina.

One of Papon's lawyers, Marcel Rouxel, said that, if he had had to sleep in a prison cell, he was "super-sure" he would have died during the trial.

Michel Slitinsky, the son of one of the Jews arrested on Papon's orders and the man who dug up the evidence incriminating him in 1981, commented: "They say he is a very old man. In the deportation convoys, there were very young children."