Out of France: Victimised policeman pursues justice

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PARIS - According to William Poiteaux's own account, he has been falsely accused of three hold- ups and beaten by police. He says his car has been broken into and his flat subjected to two arson attacks and burgled, all part of a campaign of intimidation.

Mr Poiteaux's story is one of racism and corruption in the French police, two elements that some critics claim are all too frequent. In this case, however, Mr Poiteaux is something of an unusual victim: he is a former policeman, a man who blew the whistle on things he considered unacceptable, although he hopes eventually to return to police work.

On 19 March, 1990, Mr Poiteaux was patrolling in the western Paris suburb of Courbevoie with his immediate superior in the local municipal police, Marie- France Jubault, a woman 'brigadier'. He said they saw Alexandre Khelil, a North African businessman, rush to put money in a parking meter. French police would normally tolerate such behaviour with equanimity.

In this case, Mr Poiteaux, now 27, said he was told to slap a fine on Mr Khelil. He quoted Mrs Jubault as saying: 'You shouldn't give a damn. He's an Arab and has no place here. He should go back where he came from.' Mr Khelil, who said he had collected 380 fines, said Mrs Jubault singled out his company's vehicles for special treatment. Mr Khelil was the founder of the local Association of Integrated North Africans, a body that is considered something of a quisling group by militant anti- racists. As such, Mr Khelil was considered anything but a trouble-maker.

Mr Poiteaux refused to write out a fine. He was suspended from duty on his return to the station, called before a more senior officer and then dismissed. He fought the case in the courts and has just heard that the Council of State, the highest French court, has upheld his appeal, meaning in theory that he should be allowed back into the Courbevoie force.

He said, however, that he believes the feeling against him is so strong that the Courbevoie town hall will continue its fight to keep him out of the force. It is an issue that has pitted Jean-Yves Haby, the local National Assembly deputy who supports Mr Poiteaux, against Charles Desprez, Courbevoie's mayor, although both men belong to the same party, the centre-right Union for French Democracy.

Mr Poiteaux's allegations are not just ones of simple racial prejudice against immigrants. He said police in Courbevoie drew up parking tickets systematically for the vehicles of businesses owned by immigrants. 'They would keep the police copies in the station instead of sending them for processing and then invite the offenders to the police station and offer to let the matter drop for money,' he said.

He added that two years ago, Mrs Jubault's son was detained for wearing an SS uniform in the street (wearing any Nazi insignia is an offence in France) 'but the affair was covered up'. After he made similar claims to the French press, Mrs Jubault began a libel action but then dropped the case 17 days before it was due to come to court.

In March 1992, Mr Poiteaux was detained by police from Nanterre and, he said, beaten. Nearly 24 hours after he was picked up, he was told he was suspected of three hold-ups a month earlier. Two months later a Paris court found he had been unjustly dismissed from the police but said it could not order the Courbevoie force to take him back. Mr Poiteaux, who said he has got by with occasional jobs over the past four years, said he intended to take the case to the European Court of Justice if Courbevoie did not take him back.

His lawyer received a letter from Pierre Mehaignerie, the Justice Minister, saying that he has put the matter of Mr Poiteaux's police career in the hands of the Interior Ministry in the hope that a solution can be found. Mr Poiteaux said that after taking his story to the French press he was talking to foreign media. 'It's another form of pressure, embassies report back on what is in the press of their countries. It's the only means I have left.'