Court delays ex-minister's libel case over war crimes

BORDEAUX (Reuter) - A French court ruled yesterday that a former cabinet minister must be tried on charges of crimes against humanity before it will hear a libel suit he has brought against the author of a book about him.

Maurice Papon, 83, has denied charges of helping to send 1,690 Jews, including 223 children, to their deaths when he was the second-ranking civil servant in the Bordeaux area during the Second World War occupation of France by Nazi Germany.

He is suing the author and lawyer, Gerard Boulanger, for 1 million francs ( pounds 116,000) over allegations in Boulanger's book, Maurice Papon: A French Bureaucrat in Collaboration. Mr Papon has already won a libel suit against a news magazine over the allegations.

Boulanger's lawyers argued that the libel suit could not be decided until Mr Papon's trial on collaboration charges. The Bordeaux court agreed, but said the case would be reviewed in 90 days.

Mr Papon took part in the anti- Nazi resistance in the latter stages of the 1940-1944 German occupation before pursuing a brilliant career as a senior civil servant and later as a centre-right politician.

He was budget minister under President Valery Giscard d'Estaing from 1978 to 1981. Accusations about his conduct in the war were first levelled in 1980.

Many French people regard

Mr Papon as representative of thousands of civil servants who served the collaborationist Vichy regime before returning to normal careers.

His case follows the trials of Paul Touvier, who was jailed for life earlier this year on charges of helping to choose seven Jewish hostages for execution in 1944, and of the former Lyons Gestapo chief, Klaus Barbie, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for crimes against humanity. Barbie died in a French jail in 1991.

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