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French judges target the politically powerful

A key figure in a high-profile corruption case was arrested over the weekend.

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Mr. Mitterrand began the process of decentralizing the French state, transferring certain powers and substantial moneys to regional and local governments - which also increased opportunities for under-the-table deals.

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With growing money and power, corruption exploded at the local level. But at the same time, the Socialists began to give judges more independence to carry out sensitive investigations.

"The left freed the judicial process, and they also became its first victims," Mr. Raffin said. "The politicians did not understand that the system no longer worked like it used to, and failed to draw the lessons of the possible consequences."

Over the past 10 years, the National Assembly has approved three laws on campaign contributions and political party financing, removing the often-used excuse among politicians that they had to resort to under-the-table financing because there were no provisions for public funding.

Although Mitterrand has acknowledged receiving a $1.8 million commission, he claims the money was legitimate payment for assisting the Angolan government in obtaining bank loans.

Overzealous prosecutors?

While in jail, Mitterrand told the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur that the judge, Philippe Courroye, "had displayed an unyielding hostility, with a real look of hate" during interrogations.

"If I had not been called Mitterrand, I would not have received this treatment," he said

Critics say French judges frequently use their powers to put famous people in preventive detention even though they lack convincing evidence.

In December, Michel Roussin, President Chirac's former chief of staff at the Paris City Hall, was jailed after refusing to answer a judge's questions.

"The growing role of judges in French society is a positive development," the center-left newspaper Le Monde editorialized recently in a reference to the Mitterrand and Roussin cases. "But the increasing legalization of public life should have as a corollary or counterpart the strict respect of everyone's rights, beginning with those of the defense."

For the moment, it is the trial of former foreign minister and former president of the Constitutional Council, Roland Dumas, that is grabbing the headlines.

Over the weekend, Alfred Sirven, the key figure in a case involving the alleged misuse of money from a state-owned oil company, Elf Aquitane, was arrested near Manila by Philippine police.

Sirven was put on a flight to Frankfurt after missing the Air France plane to Paris, and French authorities were hoping he would be extradited to France today.

Mr. Dumas, his former mistress Christine Deviers-Joncourt, Mr. Sirven, and four others are currently on trial in the highly complicated case.

Elf is now part of the giant firm TotalFinaElf.

Ms. Deviers-Joncourt allegedly was paid $9 million to lobby Dumas for the sale of the frigates to Taiwan, and bought him the $1,700 pair of shoes.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society