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Monday, 12 March, 2001, 12:38 GMT
Profile: France's sleaze-buster

By the BBC's James Coomarasamy in Paris

The figure behind the high-profile trial of Roland Dumas and Alfred Sirven is an unlikely one - a 57-year-old Norwegian-born woman who arrived in France as a young au pair.

Eva Joly has become one of France's most powerful and, in some spheres, most feared figures.

Mrs Joly is an examining magistrate, at the vanguard of a new generation of lawyers bent on exposing the corrupt practices that were - for so long - part and parcel of the French political system.

Sirven: Threat to finger top people
Alfred Sirven: Co-accused
It probably helps that she is an outsider, who arrived in France more than 30 years ago from her native Oslo to learn the country's language and culture.

Little did she think she would become part of one of the most fundamental changes in political culture to affect the Fifth Republic.

These days politicians know that sleaze will not go unnoticed.

She is sure that her Nordic view has been important - in Norway, she says, people don't share the same submission to the establishment as they do in France.

Roland Dumas
Roland Dumas: Court outburst could have been aimed at Joly
Even before she became the scourge of the establishment, she was hardly accepted by polite society - her French husband was disinherited by his rich family, when he revealed they were getting married.

Although she has since become closer to her in-laws, many of her relatives still question whether a foreigner should be bringing French officials to book.

But someone had to do it. The Dumas trial - in which she is playing a pivotal role - has vividly exposed the arrogance of power enjoyed by generations of French leaders - especially those connected with the regime of Francois Mitterrand.

Roland Dumas' outburst in court early in the trial - when he threatened to "deal with" certain magistrates - already soiled his image of a suave and sophisticated ex-minister.

Her offices were burgled... these days she is accompanied by armed bodyguards

Who those magistrates were he didn't say, but it is a fair bet he had Madame Joly in mind.

The image of her going to search Mr Dumas' chic Parisian apartment three years ago was a poignant one - the most striking proof, before the court case, that the great and the good in France are no longer immune to justice.

Powerful enemies

And Mrs Joly is more than aware that her activities have put her in a vulnerable position.

Her old offices in the Palais De Justice were burgled on several occasions and these days she is accompanied by armed bodyguards.

She has clearly made some powerful enemies - especially during her long inquiry into the Elf oil company.

With that inquiry continuing to unfold, she may make even more.

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See also:

06 Feb 01 | Europe
French fugitive extradited
06 Feb 01 | Europe
Elf king who fell from power
04 Feb 01 | Europe
France defends Sirven case
31 Jan 01 | Europe
Dumas 'threatens judges'
24 Jan 01 | Europe
Dumas 'heartbroken' over trial
22 Jan 01 | Europe
A potential political earthquake
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