Trial exposes gang links in NF killing

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WHO killed Yann Piat, the only woman ever to represent the National Front in the French parliament? Some of the political mystery which has swirled around the murder of Ms Piat for the last four years may be cleared away by a trial which began in Draguignan, in the south of France, yesterday.

On the other hand, the circumstances of her assassination are so muddled, and the nature of her political career so complex, that the full truth of the affair may never emerge. Seven small-time gangsters are accused of plotting and carrying out the shooting, on 25 February 1994, to prevent Ms Piat, 42, from becoming the mayor of Heyeres on an anti-mob and anti- corruption platform. By the time of her death, Ms Piat, who had known the NF leader Jean-Marie Le Pen since her childhood, had switched to the centre-right UDF alliance. It was alleged last year, in a highly controversial, and subsequently banned, book, that her murder was ordered by two senior UDF politicians. Although the pair was not named in the book, they were easily identified as Francois Leotard, head of the UDF and Jean-Claude Gaudin, mayor of Marseilles.

Both men sued and the book has since been widely discounted. The two authors - and the two politicians - are among the long parade of witnesses expected at the trial. Doubts remain, however, that such an inexperienced bunch of small-time crooks would have carried out a political assassination of such magnitude. Links between some UDF politicians and organised crime in the departement of the Var at the time of the murder are now well-established. The irony is that the assassination, which may have been intended to cover up such dealings, helped to bring the corrupt tangle of political- criminal alliances crashing down.