France revisits 80-year-old murder case

11th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 11 (AFP) - One of France's most controversial murder cases of the last century is to be re-opened following a decision Monday to refer the 1924 conviction of Breton timber-merchant Guillaume Seznec to the court of review.

PARIS, April 11 (AFP) - One of France's most controversial murder cases of the last century is to be re-opened following a decision Monday to refer the 1924 conviction of Breton timber-merchant Guillaume Seznec to the court of review.

Seznec, who was from the Brittany town of Morlaix, served 20 years of hard labour in France's penal colony in Guiana after being found guilty of killing a local notable - Pierre Quemeneur - in May 1923.

But he continued to protest his innocence even after receiving a presidential pardon for good behaviour in 1947, and following his death seven years later the campaign was taken up by his grandson Denis Seznec, who fought a 30-year battle to have the case reviewed.

"This is a historic day not just for the Seznec family but for the justice system as well. For the first time justice has stopped living in the illusion of its own infallibility," a tearful Seznec said after Monday's decision by a committee of judicial experts.

Seznec and Quemeneur were last seen together on a journey to Paris where they were to negotiate a contract to sell stocks of World War One US vehicles. But Seznec returned to Brittany alone and Quemeneur's body was never discovered.

The prosecution alleged that Seznec committed the murder in order to obtain a plot of land that belonged to Quemeneur. Evidence was produced that appeared to show that Seznec had forged a sales contract.

But campaigners argued that he was framed by the police in order to protect the true culprits, who may have been involved in a car sales racket.

Suspicions only deepened on Seznec's death in 1954: he was killed in a hit-and-run accident and the culprit was never found.

The decision to reopen the case was made on the basis of new evidence suggesting a connection between Boudjema Gherdi - a key potential witness for Seznec who failed to appear in court - and Pierre Bonny, the police chief leading the investigation.

Bonny went on to have an ignominious wartime career working with the German Gestapo, and a woman who was deported to Ravensbruck concentration camp in 1944 claimed that she was denounced to Bonny by Gherdi - indicating that the two men were known to each other.

Denis Seznec's life has been consumed by the mission to clear the name of his grandfather, who returned from the south American penal colony a few months after he was born. He has written a best-selling book and addressed hundreds of public meetings.

The Seznec affair has also become a cause celebre for many in the region of Brittany, who see it as an example of the injustice of the centralised French state.

Seznec has at least one street in Brittany named after him, and a few years ago was named in a survey as the third greatest Breton of the 20th century after yachtsman Eric Tabarly and cyclist Bernard Hinault.

The court of review consists of judges who normally sit in the criminal chamber of the high court of appeal. They have it in their power to strike down the conviction. No date has been set for their hearing.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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