Gaullists close ranks over detective

The head of detectives in the Paris police is no longer a detective. The highest French appeal court yesterday suspended Olivier Foll for six months for refusing to obey a judge's request to search the home of the city's mayor.

But the French interior minister - who belongs to the same party as the mayor, and the police chief and President Jacques Chirac - yesterday insisted that Mr Foll would continue as head of detectives, even if he was no longer a detective.

The tangled affair marks a further stage in the politically embarrassing investigation of the role of the Mayor of Paris, Jean Tiberi, in the alleged embezzlement of funds from the city's welfare housing budget. Mr Tiberi has long been a close associate of President Chirac, who was his predecessor as mayor of Paris.

Last June an investigating magistrate, Eric Halphen, asked the Paris "police judiciare" - the detective branch - to assist him in the search of the mayor's home. Mr Foll, a member of President Chirac's neo-Gaullist RPR party, refused. The magistrate took legal action. A lower court agreed that Mr Foll had "failed in his duties as a police officer". Mr Foll appealed but his case was rejected yesterday by the appeal court.

The Socialist Party, the association of magistrates and the federation of police unions all called yesterday for Mr Foll's dismissal. The interior minister, Jean-Louis Debre, also a member of the RPR, said he saw no reason why Mr Foll should not stay in his job during his suspension.

The affair is politically embarrassing for President Chirac one month after he launched a committee of inquiry into political interference in the justice system. Mr Tiberi was his close associate, and latterly his deputy, at the Paris town hall for many years. The mayor has been linked with the investigation of alleged "false billing" in the city's budget for subsidised housing.

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