Phone-tapping case finally comes to an end

10th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 9 (AFP) - One of France's longest-running legal cases came to an end Wednesday with the conviction of seven former associates of late president François Mitterrand for a phone-tapping scandal dating back 20 years.

PARIS, Nov 9 (AFP) - One of France's longest-running legal cases came to an end Wednesday with the conviction of seven former associates of late president François Mitterrand for a phone-tapping scandal dating back 20 years.

The two main defendants, Gilles Ménage, Mitterrand's cabinet director between 1988 and 1992, and Christian Prouteau, who was in charge of the anti-terrorist office at the Elysee palace where the bugging was carried out, were each fined 5,000 euros and given suspended prison terms of six and eight months respectively.

The others convicted of invasion of privacy -- a crime that can carry a one-year prison term and a EUR 45,000 euro fine -- included Louis Schweitzer, cabinet director for Mitterrand's prime minister Laurent Fabius in the mid-1980s who is today boss of the Renault car company.

He and another prime ministerial cabinet director, Michel Delabarre, had no sentence pronounced against them, however.

The others found guilty were all former members of the secret unit. Five other defendants were acquitted.

The scandal broke in 1993 when Libération newspaper reported that the telephones of around 150 people -- including journalists, lawyers and celebrities -- had been tapped from the Elysee palace between 1983 and 1986 with Mitterrand's full approval.

Among those put under surveillance were Edwy Plenel, until recently editorial chief at Le Monde newspaper, actress Carole Bouquet and Jean-Edern Hallier, a writer who committed suicide in 1997.

According to the prosecution, Hallier was suspected of having wanted to reveal the existence of Mitterrand's out-of-wedlock daughter Mazarine, who was finally put into the public's gaze just over a year before her father's death in 1996.

The investigation was held up by successive attempts to have the evidence declared inadmissible under state secrecy laws.

Ménage and Prouteau, who both admitted they had ordered some of the phone taps while claiming they were legitimate and stressing that they were following orders, said Wednesday that they accepted the verdicts against them.

Prouteau said he thought the judgement "fair" and said he was happy to see the case come to an end, while Menage said he found the verdict "balanced".

The judge said Schweitzer's lack of sentence was because he had opposed most of the wiretaps, although he was unable to dissuade Mitterrand from putting Hallier's phone under surveillance.

One member of the secret tapping unit, Captain Paul Barril, said he would appeal his six-month suspended sentence and 5,000 euro fine.

A court official said the sentences applied could be wiped from the books under amnesty laws once the fines were paid.

Mitterrand set up his secret anti-terrorist office in August 1982, just after a bomb killed nine people in Paris.

Officials began the phone-tapping operation the next year, using what the investigation said were specious pretexts for monitoring the president's personal enemies.

Revelation of the scandal at the end of Mitterrand's second term helped establish his reputation for intrigue and self-aggrandisement.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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