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Maurice Papon Demands Fast Trial to Clear Himself of War Charges

A former high official of the Vichy regime is demanding a speedy trial to clear himself of charges of “complicity and assistance in committing crimes against humanity.”

Maurice Papon, 80, was formally indicted in 1983 on the basis of a private complaint by Nazihunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld. But his trial has been repeatedly postponed.

Papon charges that his accusers are politically motivated and trying “to convince public opinion that all Frenchmen were Nazi collaborators.”

Meanwhile, he has brought a libel suit against the left-wing weekly Le Nouvel Observateur for publishing an article last spring which described him as “one of the French accomplices of the Nazi genocide policy.”

Papon, who was secretary-general of the department and city of Bordeaux from 1942 to 1944, was cleared of wrongdoing by an investigating committee after the war.

Later, he served in the government of President Charles de Gaulle, became a banker and was finance minister during the regime of President Valery Giscard d’Estaing.

But Klarsfeld and a number of prominent historians have accused Papon of employing the Bordeaux police and administration on behalf of the Nazis, to round up thousands of Jews. Most were deported to death camps.

HELPED THE RESISTANCE

On the other hand, Papon has been defended by several influential persons with strong pro-Jewish credentials.

One of them is Father Michel Riquet, canon of Notre Dame cathedral, who was chief chaplain of the anti-Nazi underground resistance organizations in France during the war.

Riquet, who is known as a supporter of Israel and Jewish causes, told the court that Papon actively helped the resistance and saved countless Jewish lives.

He might be reproached for not resigning from the Vichy regime, said Riquet, a grand officer of the Legion of Honor.

But even then it was Maurice Cohen, the chief rabbi of Bordeaux, who begged Papon not to quit so that he could continue helping the local Jewish population, the French priest told the court hearing the libel case.

Maurice Bourges-Maunoury, a former prime minister and one of the founders of the Franco-Israel alliance prior to the 1956 Suez campaign, also testified on Papon’s behalf.

Bourges-Maunoury, who headed the anti-Nazi resistance in the Bordeaux region, said Papon actively helped them.

The libel case is expected to end this week and a judgment will be rendered in about two weeks.

Papon’s lawyers say they will use his libel action to prove his innocence.

If Le Nouvel Observateur is found guilty, the case could become a precedent for halting judicial action against other accused wartime collaborators.

One of them is Rene Bousquet, the former head of the Vichy police, who was indicted last month for crimes against humanity.

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