PARIS (Dec. 22)
The Supreme Court has postponed the trial of Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie which had been scheduled to open February 3. France’s highest court announced on Friday the postponement of the trial after it overturned a lower court decision and after it ruled that the 73-year-old former Gestapo officer could be charged with crimes against French resistance fighters as well as crimes against Jewish civilians who he ordered deported to death camps.
Legal experts said today that the trial could begin next March or April, at the earliest, after the upcoming legislative elections.
Although the postponement is not linked to the elections, many believe that the government wanted to avoid a possible political scandal during the pre-election period. Barbie’s lawyer, Jacques Verges, has said that he intends to shed light on the betrayal of France’s wartime resistance leader, Jean Moulin, to the Nazis. Verges has implied that other resistance leaders informed the gestapo of Moulin’s whereabouts for political reasons.
Some French newspapers predicted that Barbie will never be put on trial because of his poor health. The Nazi war criminal is under treatment for a variety of illnesses at the Montluc Prison in Lyon where he has been detained since his expulsion from Bolivia in February, 1983.
BASIS FOR RECONSIDERATION
The Supreme Court reconsidered Barbie’s case at the request of a number of surviving resistance fighters. Barbie was formally charged by investigating Magistrate Christian Riss with crimes against humanity.
A Lyon court confirmed his indictment, ruling that the arrest, deportation and repression of the resistance fell under the definition of war crimes, which are covered in France by a statute of limitations. Under French law, Barbie could not be tried for such crimes more than 40 years after he committed them, the Lyon court maintained.
Now that the Supreme Court has reversed the lower court, the file will go back to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Paris which will interrogate Barbie once again and prepare a new indictment. In view of the hundreds of thousands of documents which must be examined and the intricate legal procedure this could take months.
Barbie, known as “the butcher of Lyon,” was sentenced to death in absentia in 1952 and again in 1954 by French military courts in Lyon for crimes against resistance fighters. The death sentence expired with the statute of limitations.
The Supreme Court ruling was based on its findings that the lower court had no jurisdiction to distinguish between crimes against humanity and war crimes. The prosecution, which generally expresses the government’s views, had asked the court to overrule the lower tribunal.