Mitterrand phone tap teamstand trial 22 years on

15th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 15 (AFP) - In an affair described as France's answer to Watergate, 12 former government officials and senior police officers went on trial in Paris Monday for running a phone-tapping operation which was used by the late president Francois Mitterrand to keep tabs on his personal enemies.

PARIS, Nov 15 (AFP) - In an affair described as France's answer to Watergate, 12 former government officials and senior police officers went on trial in Paris Monday for running a phone-tapping operation which was used by the late president Francois Mitterrand to keep tabs on his personal enemies.

An astonishing 22 years after the undercover listening-room was set up at the Elysee palace, the 12 - who include the current head of Renault Louis Schweitzer - are accused of breach of privacy and face a maximum sentence of a year in jail and a fine of EUR 45,000 (USD 58,000).

Originally conceived in 1982 as a specialist anti-terrorist unit answerable to the president, the team ended up eavesdropping on journalists, lawyers and businessmen in a bid to discover embarrassing information and snuff out potential scandals.

One of the targets was even the actress and Chanel model Carole Bouquet.

At the trial - which is to last three months - the defendants are expected to argue that they were following orders that came from Mitterrand and other politicians, none of whom has faced charges in the affair.

"Our tool was diverted for political ends, for dirty police work, for manipulation. The orders came from Mitterand's office. I always denounced the abuses," said the unit's deputy chief Paul Barril, who is one of the accused.

Among the public figures who were targeted during the unit's three years in operation was Edwy Planel, current editor-in-chief at Le Monde newspaper, who at the time was investigating claims - since shown to be true - that Barril and others framed evidence against alleged Irish terrorists.

Another target was the late writer Jean-Edern Hallier who was threatening to publish the story of Mitterrand's secret daughter Mazarine. On one occasion the Elysee allegedly learned that Hallier was to appear on a television chat-show and had the programme cancelled.

Others were journalists and lawyers looking into the 1985 Rainbow Warrior affair, in which French agents in New Zealand blew up a boat belonging to the environmental group Greenpeace killing a crew-member. In all some 150 people were tapped.

Barril's lawyer - courtroom veteran Jacques Verges - said he hoped the trial would "reveal the truth about everyone - even those in the highest places. Who gave the orders, and who manipulated it all so that others carried the can?"

The existence of the secret listening-room was not revealed until 1993, when it confirmed for many in France the arrogance and intrigue of the Mitterrand era. It was one of the factors behind the emergence of a new generation of Socialists, led by Lionel Jospin, eager to move out of Mitterrand's shadow.

It took a further 11 years to bring the case to court, largely because of a series of state secrecy orders decreed by governments of left and right which prevented the examining judge Jean-Paul Valat from gaining access to key documents.

Of those on trial, Schweitzer, 62, was cabinet director for the Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius between 1984 and 1986 when he is alleged to have transmitted phone-tap orders to the undercover cell. Mitterrand's cabinet chief Gilles Menage, 61, is also a defendant, as well as the unit's chief Christian Prouteau, 60.

The former head of an elite gendarme squad, Prouteau was allegedly told by Mitterrand to set up the secret anti-terrorist unit following a bombing in central Paris in August 1982 that killed nine people.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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