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French Court Agrees to Consider War Crimes Charges Facing Papon

December 26, 1995
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A French court is set to hear arguments in March whether former Cabinet minister Maurice Papon will stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Papon, 84, is accused of sending nearly 1,700 Jews to Nazi concentration camps.

The court, in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, where Papon was a senior official for the Vichy collaborationist regime during World War II, will hear a French state prosecutor’s report requesting that Papon face trial.

The debate, which will include defense motions, is scheduled for March 6-8.

The court is expected to make a decision a few weeks later.

Papon stands accused of signing orders to arrest and deport 1,690 Jews – 223 of them children – from 1942 to 1944.

Most of the deportees never returned from the Nazi death camps.

Papon has denied the charges against him, saying that he used his position in the Resistance to save Jews. Papon reportedly joined the Resistance movement near the end of 1943.

After the liberation, he went on to an illustrious postwar career, serving as police chief of Paris between 1958 and 1967, then as budget minister in the French Cabinet during the 1970s.

Jewish groups, lawyers and former Resistance members have long felt that successive French governments were obstructing the judicial process, hoping that Papon would die before a trial took place that would recall a period many French people would rather forget.

Relatives of the deportees accuse Papon of organizing 10 convoys that took Jews to the death camps.

But the prosecutor, relying on documents bearing Papon’s signature, said in his report that Papon had authorized only four of the convoys and that he was apparently unaware of the deportees’ fate.

The announcement of a date for the court hearing gave relatives of the victims a glimmer of hope that Papon might finally be brought to trial.

“This request fulfills a wish of the civil plaintiffs and constitutes a decisive turning point in a case which has lasted more than 13 years,” Arno Klarsfeld, a lawyer in the case who is the son of famed Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, said in an interview.

Papon was first sued in 1981 for crimes against humanity. He was charged again in 1983 and 1984, but the charges were thrown out on technicalities.

If he goes to trial, Papon will be the second French citizen to face charges of committing crimes against humanity.

The first was Paul Touvier, intelligence chief of the Lyon militia, who was convicted last year and jailed for life after more than 40 years on the run.

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