Tensions mount over Sarkozy-Bettencourt case as judge Jean-Michel Gentil receives bullet and death threat in post
John Lichfield has been The Independent's man in Paris since 1997, covering French news. Before that, he was the paper's Foreign Editor and he has also worked in Brussels and Washington. In 1999, he was the UK press Awards Foreign Reporter of the year.
Thursday 28 March 2013
A death threat and blank bullets have been sent to the judge who last week started criminal investigations against ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Two French journalists have received similar letters, containing large calibre, blank, military ammunition. All three letters were signed by hard-right group, the “Interaction des forces de l’ordre” or “IFO”.
Although possibly the work of an isolated crank the threats are being taken seriously by French authorities. The country’s anti-terrorist prosecution team has been ordered to investigate.
The letters – also sent to two other judges working on the Sarkozy case – have deepened an already dark and tense political mood in France.
A magistrates’ union today accused Mr Sarkozy’s lawyer and his political allies of being indirectly responsible for the threats.
Last Thursday, the former President was placed under investigation by Judge Jean-Michel Gentil for allegedly taking advantage of the fragile mental state of France’s richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, the chief shareholder of the cosmetics giant L’Oréal. Mr Sarkozy’s camp have since kept up an almost daily counter-attack, accusing Judge Gentil of “dishonouring France” and political “bias”.
The magistrates’ union said that the “violence” of these verbal attacks by Mr Sarkozy’s “clan” had generated an “intolerable chain-reaction of hatred” against the justice system.
In an apparent attempt to calm the mood, Mr Sarkozy announced tonight that he was suspending his appeal against the judge’s decision.
The threatening letter revealed today accuses Judge Gentil of being part of a “red sect of enraged, revolutionary, totalitarian judges” and a successor to the revolutionary “terror” of the 1790s.
Similar threats were sent to two TV and radio journalists, Jean-Pierre Elkabbach and Michael Darmon, who are co-hosts of a Sunday political chat-show. The letters were signed “Interaction des forces de l’ordre Paris-Melun-Rouen-Caen-Cherbourg-Rennes (IFO)”.
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