French Court Upholds Prison Release for Frenchman Accused of War Crimes

Paul Touvier, a 76-year-old wartime Nazi collaborator, will probably never return to jail where he was held in 1989 pending trial after his indictment for crimes against humanity.

That was the reaction of Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld when the Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a release order for Touvier, issued July 11 by the Paris Chamber of Accusations.

His release outraged war veterans and former resistance fighters, whose organizations, supported by the Paris attorney general, appealed in vain.

Touvier headed the French collaborationist organization Milice during World War II in Lyon, where the notorious war criminal Klaus Barbie was Gestapo chief.

A 15-year manhunt for Touvier ended two years ago when he was arrested at a convent in Nice in the south of France.

Given his age and poor health — he is suffering from bladder cancer — the court’s decision makes it unlikely that Touvier will be brought to justice, Klarsfeld told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“It means that Touvier is regarded with some indulgence,” he added.

Barbie, too, was taken from his prison cell last month because he suffered from terminal cancer, from which he died.

President Francois Mitterrand is widely known not to favor the “reopening of unhealed wounds.”

He believes that trying people associated with the Vichy regime would only “upset the civil peace.”

Two other veterans of the Vichy era indicted for crimes against humanity but nevertheless free, are Rene Bousquet, 82, who headed the Vichy police, and Maurice Papon, 81, responsible for deporting Jews from Bordeaux.

Despite his collaborationist past, Papon went on to command the Paris police in 1961, when they massacred more than 200 Algerians by clubbing them or drowning them in the Seine.

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