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Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 13:28 GMT 14:28 UK
France frees Nazi collaborator
Maurice Papon
Papon was released from prison on medical grounds
Maurice Papon - a former French police chief imprisoned for his role in sending Jews to Nazi death camps - has been set free on health grounds.

Child prisoners in Auschwitz
Papon signed papers sending hundreds of Jews to Auschwitz
The 92-year-old walked out of jail on foot and did not speak to journalists as he boarded his lawyer's car to be driven to his home in Gretz-Armainvilliers, east of the capital.

About 30 riot police were on hand to protect Papon from angry bystanders shouting "Murderer," "Papon in prison" and "Shame."


What I hope is that this sick man doesn't turn out to be healthy

Serge Klarsfeld
Nazi hunter

The decision by a French appeals court to order his release has been criticised by the French Government and human rights activists due to the gravity of the crimes involved.

Papon was jailed in 1999 for complicity in crimes against humanity for the deportation of more than 1,500 Jews.

The appeals court accepted two medical reports which concluded that the former Vichy official - whose career flourished after the war - was virtually incapacitated and should be set free.

Papon was the highest-ranking French official to be sentenced for helping the Nazis and his six-month trial reopened painful memories about collaboration with Hitler's forces in occupied France during World War II.

Justice Minister Dominique Perben said he and his ministry believed Papon should have stayed in jail "taking into account the seriousness of the charges against him".

Disbelief

Lawyer Jean-Marc Varaut said that, under the terms of the release, Papon must remain at home and seek court authorisation to travel.

"It is not right to call it house arrest," he added.

Maurice Papon
1942-44: Heads Bordeaux police under Nazi regime
1958: Named as Paris police chief
1978: Appointed as cabinet budget chief
1981: Wartime role revealed by press, prosecutors start inquiry
1983: Charged with crimes against humanity
1987: Case dismissed for procedural irregularities
1988: Charged again with crimes against humanity
1995: Charges reduced to complicity in crimes against humanity
1998: Convicted of organising arrests and deportations of Jews, cleared of complicity in their subsequent deaths at Auschwitz
1999: Returned to France after fleeing to Switzerland
Mr Varaut said his client had been amazed to discover that he was free to go.

"He didn't believe it," Mr Varaut said. "I told him he was free. He said: 'How did it happen?'"

Lawyers had repeatedly asked that Papon be released from the 10-year sentence he had been serving in La Sante prison in Paris because of his age and ill-health.

They said his health had deteriorated badly, with doctors saying he was suffering from chronic malfunction of the heart, circulatory system and kidneys.

The release of Papon was met with horror among campaigners for victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld, who gathered much of the evidence used at Papon's trial, had fought for Papon to stay in prison.

"What I hope is that this sick man doesn't turn out to be healthy," he said.

In 2000, President Jacques Chirac refused to free Papon on grounds of ill-health, despite appeals from a number of eminent public figures.

'No remorse'

Jewish groups opposed his release because they said he showed no remorse for his actions.

Papon - who was the head of police in Bordeaux during the Nazi era - fled to Switzerland after his conviction in 1998.

He returned to France to begin his sentence in October 1999 but wrote a letter to France's justice minister last year saying he felt no "regrets of remorse" for his actions.

He was found guilty of signing orders that led to the deportation of more than 1,500 Jews from Bordeaux between 1942 and 1944.

Most were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp and all but a handful died.

See also:

04 Sep 02 | Europe
25 Jul 02 | Europe
07 Mar 00 | Europe
23 Oct 99 | Europe
18 Sep 02 | Europe
02 Apr 98 | Despatches
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