Friday, July 27, 2007

Judicial examination for former French leader

French legal concepts are rather different to the so-called English common law that forms the basis of Australia's system. I've spoken of the Clearstream affair in two earlier posts, entitled Chirac has some explaining to do [display] and Destruction of computer files [display]. Up until today, in the context of an alleged scheme designed to frame Nicolas Sarkozy, the former prime minister Dominique de Villepin has merely been suspected of playing a role. This morning, the legal system went one step further by announcing that Villepin will be subjected to a so-called judicial examination, to be carried out under the control of a special magistrate referred to as a juge d'instruction [inquiry judge].

For Villepin, this new development means that he and his lawyers will have full access to his legal dossier, which was not the case up until now. Although Villepin is not yet actually charged with violating any law whatsoever, the announcement concerning his judicial examination mentions explicitly no less than four infractions that would figure in the charges that could well be brought against him, at the conclusion of the examination. I shall indicate the French name of each infraction, and try to describe it in English.

Complicité de dénonciation calomnieuse: The accused was an accomplice in a spontaneous operation that consisted of publicly denouncing the victim by citing facts known to be false. In other words, if Villepin were to be accused [which, I insist, is not yet the case], it would be due to his calumny suggesting that Sarkozy received illicit funds paid through Clearstream.

Recel de vol: Handling stolen goods. The Clearstream documents at the origin of this affair were indeed stolen.

Recel d'abus de confiance: The word recel means "concealment", and the expression abus de confiance might be translated as "breach of faith". The charge involves using something that belongs to another individual with the intention of harming the true owner. To be frank, I don't understand exactly what could be involved here. I believe it's the general notion of stealing banking data and falsifying it with intent to harm an individual to whom the original data is supposed to apply. Very complicated!

Complicité d'usage de faux: Association with accomplices making use of forged documents.

An interesting aspect of this announcement is the possibility that Dominique de Villepin will probably refuse to answer questions from the inquiry judge, and insist that his case be brought before a special jurisdiction known as the Court of Justice of the Republic, created in 1993, whose sole mission concerns charges aimed at a minister who was still in function at the time of the alleged infractions.

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