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Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Published at 12:12 GMT 13:12 UK

World: Europe

Papon flees France

Papon might lose his appeal if he does not spend the night in jail

Maurice Papon, the French wartime official convicted of rounding up Jews, has announced he is leaving France.

He said he was defying a court order to spend Wednesday night in jail, pending an appeal against the conviction.

The 89-year old Mr Papon, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison last year, had asked to be exempted from the mandatory night in jail because of ill health, but a court rejected the request last week.

In a statement, Mr Papon said his only possible response now was to go into exile.

Mr Papon's whereabouts have been unknown for over a week. His failure to turn up for a night in jail means that the appeal, due to be heard on Thursday, may be automatically rejected.

Reacting to Mr Papon's announcement , the French authorities said they would seek him out and arrest him.

'Clear conscience'

[ image: Papon: Convicted of ordering the deportation of Jews to Germany]
Papon: Convicted of ordering the deportation of Jews to Germany
A lawyer defending the former Nazi collaborator said his client had refused to submit to an abnormal legal procedure.

Speaking on French TV, lawyer Jean-Marc Varaut said Mr Papon had taken his decision with a "clear conscience ... in response to an important event, that is giving himself up - an archaic practice condemned by Europe - on the eve of his appeal hearing.

"Had the procedure been normal, he would have complied with the order and would have applied for a suspension of the order as part of the process of an application for [presidential] pardon."

The lawyer declined to say where his client had gone.

Crimes against humanity

[ image: The descendants of Jews sent to the death camps say France must never forget]
The descendants of Jews sent to the death camps say France must never forget
In April 1998, a French court sentenced Mr Papon to 10 years jail for crimes against humanity.

He was found guilty of ordering the deportation of 1,600 Jews from occupied France to Nazi Germany. Many went on to die in Auschwitz.

However, he was found not guilty of complicity in their murder.

Lawyers for relatives of the victims welcomed the verdict as historic.

It took 16 years for the case to come to court, six months for it to be heard and more than 18 hours for the jury to reach their verdict.

Mr Papon's defence team has consistently argued that he acted only on orders and did what he could to save those condemned to the Nazi death camps.

He is the most senior official of the Vichy regime, which collaborated with the Nazis, to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

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