Divided prosecution to sum up in Touvier trial

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THE TRIAL of Paul Touvier, the former Vichy militiaman who fled justice for 45 years, is drawing to a close after five weeks of hearings which added little to the sum total of knowledge about France under Nazi occupation.

At the Versailles assize court where Touvier, 79, is being tried for crimes against humanity - the first Frenchman to come to trial on this charge - the prosecutor today sums up and will almost certainly ask for the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The defence sums up tomorrow and the verdict and sentence are expected on Wednesday or Thursday.

The only other trial on this charge in France was that of Klaus Barbie in 1987, a Nazi police officer in Lyons and one of Touvier's superiors.

Touvier, who is charged with ordering the execution of seven Jews in June 1944, has pleaded that he in fact saved Jewish lives. But a diary he kept during the 1980s showed a lingering anti-Semitism.

President Francois Mitterrand became unwittingly involved when extracts from a forthcoming book quoted him as saying that the late president, Georges Pompidou, was right to pardon Touvier in 1971, saying that bringing old men to justice so long after the war made little sense. The pardon became inoperative when the notion of crimes against humanity was added to the French criminal code shortly after.

Even among the lawyers for the civil plaintiffs, representing the victims' families and Jewish and resistance organisations, there has been disagreement over whether Touvier was just obeying orders or had acted on his own initiative. To prove 'crimes against humanity', it has to be shown that a defendant participated in a concerted policy of genocide. Individual atrocities, however awful, are not enough.

Although Touvier, twice sentenced to death in absentia after the war, is suspected of a number of deportations and executions when he was a militia officer in Lyons during the war, only the killing of the seven Jews at Rillieux-la-Pape outside the city on 29 June 1944 justified the trial.

The seven prisoners were shot in retaliation for the assassination of Philippe Henriot, the Vichy secretary of state for information. Touvier said the Nazis had wanted 30, even 100, Jews killed and that he had managed to reduce the number to just seven. He said he had later said a Mass for them.

Excerpts from a diary he kept in 1985-86, two of the years Touvier was sheltered in Catholic monasteries from the authorities, were read out by the judge, Henri Boulard. Commenting on a television programme on the TF1 channel in which both the host and guest were Jewish, Touvier had written 'TF1 Jewish rubbish'. Other remarks concerned a 'sinister Jewish merchant' and 'Jewish cinema'.

The diary was found among the belongings of a monk in 1989, shortly after police arrested Touvier in the grounds of a monastery in Nice.

Last week, excerpts from a book for which Mr Mitterrand had been interviewed gave Touvier's defence an unexpected bonus. Discussing war criminals who survived the retributions which followed the liberation, Mr Mitterrand said: 'Forty-five years afterwards, they are old men. There are very few witnesses left and it has hardly any sense'.

Arno Klarsfeld, the 27-year- old son of the Nazi-hunters Beate and Serge Klarsfeld and one of the civil plaintiffs' lawyers, suggested that, to be logical, Mr Mitterrand should again pardon Touvier.

Mr Klarsfeld upset his colleagues on the civil plaintiffs' bench by pleading that Touvier had acted on his own initiative by ordering the execution of the seven Jews. By so doing, he stressed that Vichy officials were often zealous partners of the Nazis, doing far more than just obeying orders. Paradoxically, this undermined the prosecution's argument that Touvier was the instrument of a deliberate policy.