Toulouse braced for claims of sex and murder cover-up

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The Independent Online

Toulouse, one of the most civilised cities in France, faces explosive revelations involving sex, drugs and murder this week that could incriminate the senior ranks of police, politics and society.

Toulouse, one of the most civilised cities in France, faces explosive revelations involving sex, drugs and murder this week that could incriminate the senior ranks of police, politics and society.

One defence lawyer has spoken of a "gigantic, political scandal". A serial killer, Patrice Alègre, 32, already convicted of five murders, willbe confronted today with witnesses who have said that he was a hit-man and enforcer for a gang that supplied cocaine and under-age girls to senior figures in Toulouse society in the 1990s at sado-masochistic parties.

Investigators now believe that the five murders for which Alègre was convicted last year might be just a small part of a much wider incidence of murder and violent crime. They believe that senior local police officers and a public prosecutor covered up Alègre's role in the killing of prostitutes – some of them below the age of consent – to prevent them from talking about the parties.

Asked to comment on the allegations at a hearing with an investigating judge last month, Alègre said that he would say nothing "for the moment". Today, he will appear before the same judge, Serge Lemoine, and will be confronted with three witnesses – all former prostitutes – who accuse him of being the executioner and enforcer for a gang of pimps and drug dealers operating around Toulouse railway station in the past decade.

One of the prostitutes told investigating magistrates that police officers took weekly payments to ignore the gang's activities, and that law enforcement services systematically covered up dozens of murders by Alègre, writing them off as suicides. Alègre's lawyers are taking the accusations seriously.

Maître Laurent Boguet, a member of Alègre's legal team, said: "If this new testimony is confirmed, it appears that the police, judicial and political institutions, which are supposed to suppress crime, were encouraging it. It will be a gigantic political scandal."

Investigators believe that as many as 30 young women disappeared. They were all prostitutes. At his trial, which ended in February 2002, Alègre was presented as a serial killer who was unable to control an urge to murder women.

Mystery has always surrounded his case, however. A gendarmerie homicide unit continued its investigations after his conviction and examined 191 cases of unsolved murder, suicide or disappearance of women in the Toulouse area in the 1990s.

In the past month, three former prostitutes have come forward with testimony which investigators say is internally convincing and corroborated by other evidence. They say that Alègre was employed as the "muscle" for a gang of pimps, who operated under the protection of the police in the southern city.

The witnesses say that the gang also dealt in drugs and supplied cocaine and young prostitutes to influential local figures. They allege that Alègre beat up and murdered those women who spoke about what they had seen and done.

The local public prosecutor's office has started a new criminal investigation, accusing Alègre and "others unknown" of being involved in "pimping, rape, gang rape, rape of minors and acts of barbarism".

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