French MP Didier Julia: 'pro-Syria, pro-Saddam'

2nd March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 2 (AFP) - Didier Julia, the French lawmaker a reporter taken hostage in Iraq called for by name in a video released by her abductors, is seen as a maverick member of President Jacques Chirac's ruling party - and someone with close ties to Syria and the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein.

PARIS, March 2 (AFP) - Didier Julia, the French lawmaker a reporter taken hostage in Iraq called for by name in a video released by her abductors, is seen as a maverick member of President Jacques Chirac's ruling party - and someone with close ties to Syria and the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein.

The 71-year-old representative of the Seine-et-Marne region outside Paris first rose to prominence last September, when he headed an unofficial - and unsuccessful - mission to free two other French reporters kidnapped in Iraq.

The failure of that venture, conducted from a luxury hotel suite in the Syrian capital Damascus, earned him the scorn of his UMP party and the media, especially after the two reporters themselves said he was "beneath contempt" for jeopardising a parallel official bid that eventually freed them in December.

A former archeaologist who speaks Arabic, Julia is familiar with the Middle East.

He was also seen as a pro-Iraq lobbyist during the regime of Saddam Hussein, and enjoyed contacts with Iraqi officials from that era.

Many of those Iraqis are now believed to be active in the insurgency battling US-led forces, some with the surreptitious support of Syria.

In his failed venture to rescue the two other journalists, Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper and Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale, Julia used two aides, both of whom have since been put under criminal investigation for risking the reporters' lives - and for dealing with "a foreign power", believed to be Syria.

One of those aides, Philippe Brett, is a former bodyguard who ran a pro-Iraqi lobbying firm started in 2000 called the French Office for Industry Development and Culture (OFDIC) which tried to have sanctions against Saddam's regime lifted.

The other is Philippe Evanno, a UMP party member.

Both travel on expired French passports, the newspaper Le Figaro reported.

Julia himself is the subject of a preliminary judicial inquiry but has had no action taken against him.

Several newspapers in France noted that, when Julia went to Syria to oversee his failed mission, the French embassy in Damscus stepped in to secure his Syrian visa with the Syrian foreign ministry.

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo also loaned a private jet for the Julia team's use, adding to speculation that, though the mission was unofficial, it might have taken place in a larger, behind-the-scenes dealmaking environment.

With Aubenas now calling out for Julia by name, many in France, starting with the journalist's employer, the Liberation newspaper, believe she was directed to involve the MP.

A previous video received last week by French officials but not made public had Aubenas identifying herself in a similar tone - but not making any reference to Julia, according to the newspaper.

Julia himself has said he is prepared to respond to Aubenas's call - but for that, the government would have to drop its investigation of his aides.

Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, who has not disguised his animosity towards Julia, has reluctantly left the door open to that option, saying Wednesday: "We have to follow all leads."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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