Jacques Verges: provocative French lawyer who is `against laws'
Paris — French Resistance fighter, former member of the Communist Party, publisher of revolutionary periodicals, and defender of Algerian rebels, Jacques Verg`es uses the law to attack the state. Mr. Verg`es is the lawyer for alleged Marxist terrorist Georges Abdallah. He also is the lawyer for accused Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie.
He sympathizes with both left-wing Mr. Abdallah and right-wing Mr. Barbie, saying the two men share the common problem of being at odds with society.
``My law is to be against laws,'' Verg`es explained in an interview in his book-lined Paris office. Dressed in a crisp gray suit, he sits behind a Louis XIV desk and makes his statements in a clear and cultivated French. An elegant Flemish tapestry hangs on one wall.
Despite his deliberately provocative philosophy, his more conventional legal opponents admire him.
``An exceptional lawyer,'' says Georges Kiejman, who is representing the widow of slain United States diplomat Col. Charles Ray in the case against Abdallah.
``Like any good lawyer, he tries to defend his client by all methods,'' adds Serge Klarsfeld, the Paris Nazi-hunter and lawyer who helped capture Barbie.
Verg`es's strategy is to turn both the Barbie and Abdallah cases into national dramas. In Mr. Abdallah's case, he plans to put ``French policy today in the Middle East'' on trial.
Such a political defense could be effective, gaining publicity and sympathy for Abdallah the terrorist, worries Mr. Kiejman. ``I will be forced to deviate from the case,'' he says. ``People could start forgetting what the Abdallah group did.''
Verg`es is also preparing a more conventional legal strategy. Abdallah, he emphasizes, is not accused of the recent ``blind'' bombings in Paris, but of giving orders to kill Colonel Ray and an Israeli diplomat in 1982. Recently, Abdallah was also charged with complicity in the 1984 attempted murder in Strasbourg of American consul Robert Homme. But of the Ray case, Verg`es says, ``There is no evidence, no witnesses, no documents, which show that my client gave any orders.''
Proving Abdallah's complicity will be difficult, Kiejman and others admit. ``We all know Abdallah's a nasty guy,'' says a Western diplomat following the case. ``But its another thing to prove he gave the orders to kill some one.''
In Barbie's case, Verg`es will use similar tactics. He plans to compare German repression during World War II to French actions during the war in Algeria. He also plans to attack the French Resistance for collaborating with the Nazis, anticipating that many present-day politicians who boast of fighting against the Nazis will be embarrassed.
``An entire generation of French politicians graduated from the Resistance ranks,'' he says. ``They are now in power and they have lots to fear.''
Barbie, dubbed ``the butcher of Lyon,'' was the Gestapo chief in that city during World War II. Discovered hiding in Bolivia, he was flown back to France in 1983 and charged with complicity in the deportation of 452 French Jews in 1943 and 1944.
Verg`es accuses French authorities of stalling the case. He says, ``My client has been in jail almost four years. The authorities would like my client to die in jail.''
That, he hopes, will prove impossible. Although Barbie is ailing, all possible pretrial maneuvers now have been exhausted and he expects the trial to begin in February.
Verg`es never has paled before challenges. Born in Thailand, the son of a French diplomat and a Vietnamese woman, his Eurasian background has made him an outsider. To the French, he was Oriental. To Asians, he was European. ``It was a hard burden to bear,'' he says.
At age 17, Verg`es joined the Free French forces in England, later serving in Algeria, Morocco, Italy, France, and Germany. He later settled in Paris, staying there to complete university studies in oriental languages, history, and law. In 1945, he joined the Communist Party.
At university, Verg`es headed an organization for students from French colonies through which he met Pol Pot, the head of the Khmer student association, and later director of the Cambodian communist regime during the 1970s. From 1951 to 1954, Verg`es lived in Prague, serving as secretary of the International Union of Students, and worked with such people as the late Swedish prime minister Olof Palme and future KGB chief Alexander Shelepin.
Returning to France, Verg`es became involved in the Algerian war for independence. He quit the communist party in 1956 ``because it was not taking a strong enough stand against imperialism,'' and began defending rebels.
He soon developed a reputation as a terror in the courtroom. In 1961, he was suspended for a year for his verbal attacks on judges. He then went to Morocco where he worked as a liaison officer between the rebel Algerian army and other African independence movements. A few years later, back in Paris, he founded a pro-Chinese monthly and made several trips to China, meeting several times with Mao Tse-tung.
He also began his career defending Middle Eastern terrorists. At the request of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Algerian government, he traveled in 1965 to Israel to defend three Palestinian guerrillas accused of blowing up a water tank. After he denounced the Israeli courts, the Israelis expelled him. Since then, he has defended other Palestinians on charges of hijacking in Greece and Switzerland.
Then in 1970, he traveled to Spain and disappeared. He was not seen again until 1978. Where was he? Verg`es won't say. ``It's my black hole,'' he says.
Whatever the truth, Verg`es says he now plans to stay in France and practice law because the advanced Western democracies he detests offer him the most freedom. He says that he could not defend his causes in communist or third world courts of law.
``I admit it,'' he says. ``I work here in France because I can exercise my profession with the most freedom.''