Secrets broadcast on the evening bulletin: Selective leaks to sway public opinion have made French justice a political tool, writes Julian Nundy from Paris

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The Independent Online
WHEN Jean-Claude Gaudin went to the prosecutor's office in Grasse, all of France knew he was about to be indicted: the media had already forecast the event.

Mr Gaudin, a member of the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) and president of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region, was charged last Thursday with fraud, abusing his position and influence-peddling (all of which he denies).

Last month the press reported that Henri Emmanuelli, president of the National Assembly, was to be indicted in September in connection with illegal funding of the Socialist Party.

In June, the information that Francois Leotard, the UDF's honorary president, had been charged with corruption over a building contract in the Riviera town of Frejus - where he was mayor - was released as soon as he left the examining magistrate's office. It was just in time for the story to appear on the main evening television news.

In May, the entrepreneur Bernard Tapie resigned after only seven weeks as a minister because he, too, had been called before a magistrate. Once again, details of his indictment were well publicised in advance.

Each time, Michel Vauzelle, the Justice Minister, reminded magistrates of professional ethics, of the absolute need for judicial

secrecy.

In the 1980s, in cases dealing with Middle East terrorists, magistrates leaked details of their investigations in a clear manoeuvre to get public opinion on their side. By so doing, the logic went, they discouraged the state from succumbing to the temptation to free dangerous prisoners to head off new attacks or to protect French interests abroad.

It had begun to look as though investigators dealing with politicians had adopted a similar tactic. Roland Dumas, the Foreign Minister, was one of France's most prominent lawyers until he went into politics. Saying that 'judicial practices are adrift', he complained 'of too many magistrates who are getting involved in politics and interfering in force'.

Thanks to the most curious of all the recent leaks, however, the tables have been turned and the finger pointed at the government. A memorandum from a judge in the city of Rennes to the local prosecutor complained of pressure on Renaud Van Ruymbeke, the examining magistrate in the Emmanuelli case.

Dominique Bailhache, the president of the 'chambre d'accusation', recalled that the prosecutor had been fully informed of developments in the case. 'Yet, once again, the information we communicated to you and which was passed on to the Keeper of the Seals (the Justice Minister) and the Chancellery has been divulged to the press for reasons which seem evident since the honesty and impartiality of the chambre d'accusation and particularly of Mr Van Ruymbeke . . . are directly in question,' Mr Bailhache wrote.

The original news about Mr Emmanuelli's indictment came on the eve of a Socialist Party congress in Bordeaux. The troops rallied behind him, and a party that had earlier looked almost in retreat found a new unity in its solidarity for a persecuted leader.

The Rennes leak coincided with the end of the hearings in one the most painful trials of modern France, that of four doctors accused of knowingly allowing the distribution of HIV-contaminated blood products to haemophiliacs in 1985. With the verdict not due until 23 October, it is a trial that left all sides dissatisfied.

The prosecutor herself said there could have been 100 people on trial, that the four were chosen for their positions and knowledge at the time. The haemophiliacs were unhappy at the relatively light sentences requested. Only Michel Garretta, the former head of the National Blood Transfusion Centre, is likely to go to prison.

The defendants and the haemophliacs were angry that, even if the ministers in charge were not put on trial, the civil servants and advisers who were the buffers between the public health services and the government should have been. Dr Garretta's lawyer said it was 'a political trial without politicians'.

As the prosecutor in the Aids trial remarked, the question of whether French justice really suffers from government interference is unanswerable. 'Some will never believe that there were no orders and will say that I received the order to say there were no orders. It's never ending,' she told the court.

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