French judge rails at 'censoring' of her book on corruption

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The Independent Online

Eva Joly, one of the most feared and tenacious investigating magistrates in France until she retired last year, has provoked a political and legal storm by writing a book describing the death threats and other pressures she says she endured while investigating the pillaging of billions of francs from the Elf oil company.

This week her book was banned for three weeks by a French court (which was chaired by a judge whom she criticises in the text).

Yesterday, Mme Joly, 59, led a group of 14 judges and corruption investigators from around the world in making a "Declaration of Paris", which accuses Western banks and multinational companies of being "at the heart of" an international network of "grand corruption".

Her book, Est-ce dans ce monde là que nous voulons vivre? (Is this the world in which we want to live?), has been banned until 7 July, when the Elf trial in Paris will end. More than a score of former Elf executives and their business associates are accused of embezzling at least €2bn from the company when it was owned by the state in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The evidence against them was largely unearthed by Mme Joly and two other investigating magistrates in a long inquiry, marked, she says, by political obstruction and death threats.

Mme Joly, who arrived in France as a Norwegian au pair in 1964, married a French doctor and then trained as a lawyer in her forties. She says she was frequently impeded by other members of the French judiciary. One of the judges she criticised was the chairman of the court that delayed publication of her book.

The court accepted the argument put forward by the French government and by lawyers' associations that the book's publication would prejudice the Elf trial. Lawyers' groups - with whom Mme Joly has often quarrelled - accused her of trying to "profit" from the trial and of posing as a "Joan of Arc of anti-corruption".

Mme Joly, who returned to Norway after retiring, is crying "censorship". She protests that there is no evidence in the book against the Elf defendants that has not already been presented at the trial.

The point of the book, she says, is to place the Elf affair within the context of a web of high-level corruption in the world and the unwillingness of the French state apparatus to come to terms with corruption among the nation's elite. Defendants in the trial have alleged that the French state used Elf over many years to finance client politicians in Africa and elsewhere.

The French justice system is under attack on several fronts. Another court decided on Wednesday to abandon all criminal investigation of a dozen senior officials accused of covering up, for commercial reasons, in the late 1980s the fact that blood banks were tainted by the Aids virus. Relatives of those who caught HIV from blood transfusions complained, in anguished terms, that the legal system had taken almost 20 years to decide to do nothing.

There has also been criticism of a court decision, also on Wednesday, to clear the central bank governor, Jean-Claude Trichet, of approving falsified accounts for the struggling state-owned bank, Crédit Lyonnais, in the early 1990s.

Although press commentators agreed that there was no evidence against M. Trichet, they said the French state, both politicians and officials, had now been exonerated of all responsibility for the €31bn debacle at Crédit Lyonnais. What was clear, however, was that the bank's imprudent loans and acquisitions had largely been willed by the government, which was led by the Socialists at the time.

Mme Joly now heads an anti-corruption campaign in Norway. In her "Declaration of Paris", joined by investigators from Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Canada and other countries, she called on Western governments to take more seriously their declared commitment to root out high-level corruption and money laundering.