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Former French Minister Indicted for Nazi Crimes

The long-festering charge that high-ranking Frenchmen collaborated with the Nazis during World War II may yet be decided if an investigating magistrate in Bordeaux decides to place a former Cabinet minister on trial.

That possibility was raised with the disclosure Wednesday that Maurice Papon, budget minister in the government of former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, was secretly indicted three months ago for wartime collaboration.

Papon, 79, was the second-highest official in the Bordeaux area during the war. He has been accused of willingly helping the Nazis deport 1,690 Jews between 1942 and 1944.

After the war, he was the longest-serving police chief of Paris until he joined Giscard’s government.

The drive for the indictment was led by German-born Nazi-hunter Beate Klarsfeld, who had an important role in bringing the former Lyon gestapo chief Klaus Barbie to justice more than 40 years after the war.

Klarsfeld charged that the French authorities were trying to bury the Papon case in solidarity with the former minister.

Papon always denied collaborating with the Germans and insisted he had helped Jews escape.

Papon was indicted on similar charges in 1983 and 1984, but they were dropped last year after the court of appeals cancelled proceedings on technical grounds.

After his first indictment, he asked to be tried by a court of honor, composed of former resistance fighters headed by the legendary resistance figure, Marie-Madeleine Forcade.

It did not absolve Papon but found no grounds to indict him.

Papon is only one of a number of ranking French officials accused by Jewish survivors and former resistance fighters of collaboration.

Most of them claimed they only pretended to cooperate with the Germans in order to help the resistance underground, and to save Jews and others from possible deportation.

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