By Michel Di Paz (Apr. 13)
The Paris Court of Appeals on Monday dismissed all charges against Nazi collaborator Paul Touvier, former head of the Vichy militia in Lyon, who was accused of crimes against humanity.
The decision was based on lack of evidence in proving that Touvier’s acts were crimes against humanity, enacted within a concerted framework to persecute or try to eradicate a people.
The decision to free Touvier, 77, who was twice sentenced to death in absentia after World War II, outraged but did not surprise the former Resistance fighters and other anti-Nazi groups instrumental in bringing him to trial.
It drew a sharp protest from Shimon Samuels, European director of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Touvier, who was a close aide to Lyon Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie, was known for his brutality toward Jews and Resistance fighters.
He personally handed over seven Jews from Rillieux-le-Pape, near Lyon, who were shot in reprisal for the assassination of a Vichy minister by the Resistance.
It is widely known that the highest levels of government, including President Francois Mitterrand, are opposed to the prosecution of Vichy collaborators on grounds that it will open old wounds and “threaten the civil peace.”
Although the plaintiffs said they would take the case to a higher jurisdiction, the appeals court decision could prejudice the pending trials of two other high-ranking Vichy officials, Maurice Papon and Rene Bousquet.
Papon, who administered the Bordeaux region, carried out orders from Bousquet, head of the Vichy police, to deport Jews.
NO PROOF OF ‘CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY’
Most of the counts against Touvier were rejected by the appeals court for lack of evidence.
One concerned his role in the deaths of the seven Jews shot near Lyon in June 1944.
Regarding that, the Paris court said, “Although there is evidence against Touvier, nothing can prove this was a crime against humanity, a crime committed within the framework of a concerted plan in the name of a state, to eradicate civilian populations or to persecute for religious, racial or political reasons.”
Touvier, a fugitive since the end of the war, enjoyed the protection of the Roman Catholic clergy in France as well as high political figures.
Sheltered by the church, he emerged from hiding in the early 1970s to be secretly pardoned by President Georges Pompidou.
When the former Resistance fighters learned of the pardon, they filed new suits against Touvier, who promptly disappeared.
His protectors ranged from lowly parish priests to French archbishops.
Touvier remained in hiding in various convents and monasteries until 1989, when he was finally arrested in Nice on the French Riviera, a stronghold of the clerical and political right.
The new charges were pressed by Judge Jean-Paul Getty. But Touvier was freed on bail in the summer of 1991.
The prosecuting attorneys complained repeatedly but in vain of the appeals court’s leniency toward the alleged war criminal.