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Court Rules Vichy Official Must Be Tried for War Crimes

Rene Bousquet, who headed the Vichy government’s police when the Nazis controlled France during World War II, must go on trial for crimes against humanity, a French court has ruled.

Bousquet, 81, will be the first high-ranking official of the Vichy regime to be tried since the immediate post-war years.

Moreover, he will be tried in a regular criminal court rather than by a special tribunal, which makes a speedy trial more likely. The proceedings are expected to start next year.

Bousquet’s trial will be the first major trial for crimes against humanity since former Lyon Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie was convicted by a criminal court in 1988. Barbie is serving a life sentence.

The Court of Appeal, France’s second-highest jurisdiction, rejected a prosecution request that a special, and long-dormant, tribunal try Bousquet. Had the prosecution succeeded, it would have taken years to constitute such a court of specially appointed judges, and there would most probably have been postponements because of the accused’s advanced age and poor health.

In such a case, Bousquet might never have gone on trial, said Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld. He along with others affiliated with organizations of former deportees have accused successive French governments of deliberate failure to try officials and politicians of the Vichy regime in the interests of “national unity.”

The French have sought to heal the ill feelings that existed between Gaullists and collaborators in the post-war period.

The ambiguous outcome of Bousquet’s first trial in 1949 was a case in point.

Tried by a special tribunal for collaboration with the enemy, he was sentenced to five years of “national indignity.”

But the court immediately suspended the sentence “due to his wartime services to the Resistance” and alleged secret help to Jews to avoid arrest and deportation.

But Klarsfeld and an organization of children of Jewish deportees have produced new documentary evidence that Bousquet ordered the Vichy police to round up Jews and arrest them, the Court of Appeal acknowledged.

Bousquet had a long, successful career as a banker and headed several large corporations and industries. He retired five years ago after Klarsfeld brought new charges against him.

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