Leak of dossier on Speaker angers French Socialists

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The Independent Online
FRENCH Socialists, shaken by press reports that the speaker of parliament may face criminal charges, reacted angrily yesterday - with some calling for judicial reform to prevent such leaks in the future.

Le Monde newspaper reported on Thursday that Henri Emmanuelli, the president of the National Assembly, was to be charged next month over illegal party funding dating back to when he was the Socialist Party treasurer.

The timing of the report - on the eve of a party congress in Bordeaux - prompted a number of Socialist officials to allege it was a deliberate political manoeuvre to discredit the ruling party. Pierre Mauroy, a former prime minister and Socialist Party leader, spoke of 'a monstrous hypocrisy', which risked becoming 'a new form of McCarthyism'.

Various lawyers' associations warned against any temptation to remove the judge, Renaud van Ruymbeke, from the investigations into Socialist funding. Mr van Ruymbeke has already replaced another magistrate delving into the case, known as the 'Urba affair' after a company set up to collect funds. Mr van Ruymbeke has refused comment on the report in Le Monde.

Edwy Plenel, one of newspapers's best-known investigative reporters, said yesterday that his sources came from within the Socialist Party. 'We should not be hypocrites,' he said. 'When an important person is involved, the chancery (the government) is informed.'

Jean Auroux, the leader of the Socialist group in the National Assembly, said the affair showed the need for the reform of 'a twisted system'.

Suspicion for the leak fell on Mr van Ruymbeke because he confiscated documents from party headquarters in Paris in January, the day that Laurent Fabius took over as Socialist Party first secretary. Many Socialists are convinced that neither the timing of his raid nor of the report on Mr Emmanuelli were coincidences.

Mr Mauroy said in Bordeaux that 'if Henri Emmanuelli is charged, then all Socialists should be charged as well as all those who have the honour of being politicians'. If charged, Mr Emmanuelli will join a string of elected officials implicated in cases of financial wrongdoing.

Mr Emmanuelli was the Socialist Party treasurer from 1988 until the beginning of this year. Mr van Ruymbeke has been investigating the illegal funding of parties, most of which relates to the 1988 general election campaign, a period that just preceded Mr Emmanuelli's appointment.

Leaks from the French judiciary have become commonplace in recent years. Previously, magistrates were believed to have been held in check by the government. They have known growing independence since Francois Mitterrand was elected President in 1981.

However, the legal profession apparently still fears for its integrity. In a series of terrorist cases in the 1980s and, now, in political affairs, many details that would normally be treated as sub judice have surfaced in the media as a matter of routine, apparently with the assumption that publicity would stop the authorities from interfering.

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