Police rounded up five alleged members of the criminal underworld in the southern Var department and an employee of the Var council yesterday on the instructions of Thierry Rolland, the examining magistrate in the case.
They also called at the home of Maurice Arreckx, president of the Var council and a senator for the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) party to which Piat, a 44-year-old mother of two, belonged.
The questioning of Mr Arreckx, 76, was the latest development in a case which threatens to reveal links between politics and crime in a department that includes the resort of Saint Tropez.
Piat, shot dead on 26 February, left a letter, written in January 1992, to be opened in the case of her unexplained death. She spoke of her 'forced political relations' with Mr Arreckx, Mr Tapie and Jean-Louis Fargette, a well-known Var underworld leader who was murdered in Italy last year. A fourth man named in the letter and said to be an associate of Mr Tapie was reported to have been detained in Marseilles yesterday.
Piat, first elected to the National Assembly for the far right National Front in 1986, left the anti-immigration party in a dispute with Jean-Marie Le Pen, the Front's leader, in 1988. She re-took her seat for the UDF last March.
She was shot by two men on a motorcycle as she was being driven to her home in the port of Hyeres. Two men suspected of carrying out the murder have been detained, but police have not identified those who ordered it.
Revelations over the past 10 days have painted a portrait of a woman determined to expose corruption in her region and aware of serious threats against her life. She accused Mr Arreckx of being friendly with Fargette. Mr Arrecks acknowledged on television this week that he had been in touch with the gangster leader some 10 years ago, but that the contacts had been above board. In a statement on Monday, Mr Arreckx said he and the Var council were victims of 'scandalous and pernicious insinuations and all without the slightest proof'.
Mr Tapie, a centre-left deputy in the neighbouring Bouches-du-Rhone department and a cabinet minister in the last Socialist government, was recently charged for alleged mismanagement of one of his companies and for involvement in fixing a soccer match between Olympique de Marseille (OM), of which he is president, and Valenciennes. Mr Rolland said that he would be questioning Mr Tapie about the Piat case at the end of this week.Reuse content