French police detain Tapie in dawn swoop

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BERNARD TAPIE, the controversial French politician, was detained in a dawn swoop on his Paris home yesterday just a few hours after the National Assembly voted to lift his parliamentary immunity so he could face tax- fraud charges.

In an astonishingly theatrical operation, which on past form will serve only to boost the blustering Mr Tapie's already buoyant popularity, police called at his Left Bank home on rue des Saints Peres at 6am, the earliest time allowed by law.

According to neighbours, they rang the doorbell and beat on the large wooden doors for 20 minutes until Mr Tapie, 51, in pyjamas and barefoot, appeared.

Once inside, a servant said, the policemen's behaviour was 'fairly rough'. The always forthright Mr Tapie, who was finally handcuffed, allegedly insulted the police repeatedly. This earned the former cabinet minister an addition to his already impressive legal dossier, a formal complaint for insulting police officers.

Three days earlier, as if they were preparing to snare a master spy, police had taken rooms in the Hotel de Calais opposite his home, using it as an observation post in case, they said, the MP, whose European-election list took an impressive 12.5 per cent on 12 June, tried to skip the country.

In all, given that Mr Tapie was free three hours later without even being asked to pay bail, the operation looked like extraordinary overkill playing right into Mr Tapie's hands.

The previous day, he apparently had help from high places when he defended himself before his fellow deputies at the National Assembly. Mr Tapie, relaxed on what should have been a humiliating occasion, said that the legal attention paid him was part of the political 'lynching' designed to bring down a man whose direct style and popular touch offended the establishment.

According to the France- Soir newspaper, the original draft of Mr Tapie's speech was written by Jean-Francois Hory, president of the small Left Radicals' Movement, a party which Mr Tapie has adopted as his own.

Then it was honed and re- written by Michel Charasse, a former Socialist budget minister and one of President Francois Mitterrand's inner circle.

If true, this would lend weight to talk that Mr Mitterrand has been promoting Mr Tapie behind the scenes to torpedo Michel Rocard, who was ousted from the Socialist Party leadership 10 days ago after a disastrous performance in the European elections.