This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 PARIS 000553
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/27/2016 TAGS: PREL PHUM TO DJ CI RW FR SUBJECT: LONG ARM OF FRENCH LAW: INVESTIGATIONS IN AFRICA
REF: A. PARIS DAO IIR 6 832 0057 06 (141639Z NOV 05)
B. LOME 55
C. 05 PARIS 952
D. 95 PARIS 4903
E. DJIBOUTI 90
F. 05 PARIS 974
Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Josiah Rosenblatt for reaso ns 1.4 (b/d).
1, (C) SUMMARY: Several French judicial inquiries and litigations concerning Africa are now making their way through the legal system. These involve Cote d'Ivoire (judicial inquiry into the killing of a reputed Ivoirian bandit and the French military cover-up); Togo-Cote d'Ivoire (possible arms trading in Togo with connections to Cote d'Ivoire involving former French gendarme Robert Montoya); Djibouti (legal conflicts over the 1995 death of French judge Borrel); and Rwanda (victims of 1994 genocide suing the GoF). These cases feature active intervention by the relatively independent French judiciary with its tradition of self-directed investigating judges, which has introduced a complicating factor into French bilateral relations with the countries concerned. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) On May 13, 2005, three French soldiers serving with France's Operation Licorne killed an Ivoirian, reputedly the notorious bandit Firmin Mahe, and then tried to cover up the incident. This cover-up eventually reached to the unit's battalion commander, Colonel Eric Burgaud, and the commander of Operation Licorne at the time, Major General Henri Poncet. Senior GoF and military officials learned of the cover-up in October 2005. Reaction from the top was swift and unequivocal -- Defense Minister Alliot-Marie, CHOD Bentegeat, and Army Chief of Staff Thorette moved quickly to launch an investigation, suspend those involved, and proceed towards criminal prosecution. A third officer, Brigadier General Renaud Alziari de Malussene, brigade commander at the time of Mahe's death, has been relieved of command of Multinational Brigade Northeast in Kosovo. The different cases against the individuals (Poncet, Burgaud, and the three soldiers who killed the Ivoirian) are proceeding. The examining magistrate in Poncet's case is "juge d'instruction" Brigitte Raynaud, who is also investigating the Togo-Cote d'Ivoire and Rwanda cases discussed below. Raynaud is a member of the "tribunal aux armees de Paris" (TAP), which has jurisdiction over certain military-related cases.
3. (SBU) As the Mahe case has developed, the individuals involved have begun accusing each other and offering justifications for their actions. Burgaud claims that Poncet authorized the killing, albeit implicitly, after Mahe was apprehended -- by telling him to "drive him (Mahe) slowly to the hospital," which Burgaud claims meant "make sure he dies before you arrive at the hospital." Poncet denies this accusation and says he helped cover up the killing in order only to avoid exacerbating anti-French sentiment in Cote d'Ivoire. One of the three soldiers who killed Mahe claims that he did so on Burgaud's order, which Burgaud denies.
4. (C) COMMENT: Although there was an initial surge in French military protests over the treatment of Poncet and the others, it appears that the firm message from Alliot-Marie, Bentegeat, Thorette, and other senior leaders -- that this kind of behavior would not be tolerated and would not go unpunished -- has now been accepted by French officers and the rank and file, without unduly injuring service morale. That a senior officer such as Poncet was not spared has probably made the GoF's decision more acceptable to service members. In pursuing the case, senior officials have stressed the need for transparency and their duty to uphold the honor of the French Army. (See Ref A for Army Chief of Staff Thorette's assessment.) Although the French have not stated it expressly, part of their reason for moving swiftly and publicly in this case may involve a desire to avoid criticism of the sort directed against the USG as a result of Abu Ghraib and related issues.
5. (C) COMMENT CONT'D: A further twist to the case emerged in December 2005 when questions arose in the media as to whether Firmin Mahe was really the notorious bandit the GoF claimed he was and whether the person killed was not Firmin Mahe but rather an innocent namesake, Nestor Mahe. French officials quickly stated that these issues were irrelevant to the charges against the accused -- they had killed someone illegally and then covered it up, and the victim's precise identity did not change those facts. According to the press, Judge Raynaud intends to obtain DNA samples of the victim in order to make a positive identification, and is planning to travel to Cote d'Ivoire to exhume the body, with the cooperation of Ivoirian officials, on January 31. Her mission may be complicated by the need to organize logistics rapidly and the fact that the grave is located in rebel territory. Until the victim's identity is established, the possibility that the military killed the wrong person has only added insult to injury, injecting a note of ridicule and incompetence into an already sad story. Further complicating matters, AFP reported on January 26 that a military court in Cote d'Ivoire had issued an international arrest warrant for General Poncet and Colonel Patrick Destremau, for their role in the suppression by French forces of demonstrations in Abidjan on November 9, 2004, which resulted in the death of several Ivoirians. END COMMENT.
6. (SBU) Ref B notes the seizure of several warplanes in Togo belonging to former French gendarme Robert Montoya. This too has become the subject of French judicial inquiry, with Judge Raynaud investigating the lethal bombing of French military forces in Cote d'Ivoire on November 6, 2004. She is now investigating the Montoya affair in Togo because of its possible connection to Cote d'Ivoire and the possibility that Montoya furnished or helped furnish the planes involved in the bombing. Raynaud reportedly traveled to Togo on January 10 to seek information from the GoT on Montoya and arms trafficking. Le Monde reports that General Poncet (the former Operation Licorne commander under investigation for the Mahe incident described above) has told French authorities that Montoya helped the Cote d'Ivoire regime "with respect to furnishing arms and probably technicians." Paris daily Le Monde on January 11 described Montoya's long connection with several African regimes, his experience over many years in Africa on security issues, arms dealing, and advising African leaders, and his long involvement in clandestine affairs. When serving as a gendarme, Montoya was a member of the Elysee's anti-terrorist cell during the 1980s.
7. (C) COMMENT: Montoya is one of several French citizens with close and questionable ties to Togo, including former Eyadema advisor Charles Debbasch and former European Parliament Deputy Michel Scarbonchi (Ref C). Former GoT Interior Minister Francois Boko, now in exile in Paris (Ref D), has previously mentioned to us his belief, consistent with Poncet's claims, that some war materials used by the regime in Cote d'Ivoire, including aircraft, originally transited through Togo. We will discuss this further with Boko during our next meeting with him. END COMMENT.
8. (SBU) Ref E notes Djibouti's bringing the Borrel case to the International Court of Justice on January 9, seeking to compel French investigative judge Sophie Clement to provide case files to the GoD. The case involves the 1995 death of French Judge Bernard Borrel in Djibouti, where he was conducting an investigation. His death under mysterious circumstances was ruled a suicide, a conclusion his widow has contested ever since. She claims that he was murdered and has persisted in pressing her claim both on her own and by engaging the French legal system, which has led to Judge Clement's investigation (Ref F). In taking the case to the ICJ, Djibouti also accuses Clement of overreaching, in attempting to obtain the testimony of senior GoD officials (including President Guelleh) pursuant to her investigation. The ICJ filing follows the GoD's reported decision in October 2005 to cease cooperating with Clement's investigation.
9. (SBU) Mrs. Borrel has been adept at bringing media attention to this case and the media have generally been sympathetic. Public attention increased in October 2005 on the 10th anniversary of Bernard Borrel's death. Several groups demanded and petitioned that the GoF cooperate more fully with Mrs. Borrel's and Judge Clement's investigations. Defense Minister Alliot-Marie on October 18 announced the declassification of 23 MoD documents, which she claimed complied with the judge's requests for MoD information. Mrs. Borrel's lawyer said that other classified documents should be made available.
10. (C) COMMENT: As noted Ref F, MFA officials have tried to minimize the impact of the on-going investigation, describing the case as an "irritant" that should have little or no effect on France's military presence in Djibouti. Nonetheless, MFA officials have expressed to us their frustration, stressing the independence investigative judges enjoy in France's legal system and the MFA's lack of success in convincing the GoD that its ability to control judges such as Clement is limited. The MFA's January 11 public statement after the International Court of Justice was drawn into the case is typically dead pan: "France has well taken note of the International Court of Justice's January 10 press release. Djibouti's request to the ICJ has not been formally transmitted to France by the Court. As soon as it is officially transmitted, it will be the object of attentive examination."
11. (C) COMMENT CONT'D: Judge Clement's continued refusal to release files to the GoD has exacerbated the MFA's problems, with both Djibouti and the French judiciary. About one year ago, on January 29, 2005, the MFA announced publicly that the GoF would provide Djibouti with the Borrel case files. This did not sit well with the judiciary, which had (and continues to have) control of the files and which did not appreciate the suggestion that the MFA had the power to provide them to the GoD or anyone else. The professional organization representing France's magistrates was also upset, claiming that the MFA's promise to the GoD was an improper attempt to pressure Judge Clement to convey the files to Djibouti. The MFA was never able to find a way to provide the Borrel files to Djibouti.
12. (C) COMMENT CONT'D: We expect that the MFA, notwithstanding the escalating legal battle between the GoD and the French judiciary and Mrs. Borrel, will do its best, on the one hand, to try to work constructively with Djibouti, emphasizing its inability to control Judge Clement to Djibouti's liking. At the same time, the MFA will likely continue to explain privately to judicial officials the implications of the case, while trying to avoid giving the impression that the MFA is hindering Mrs. Borrel's attempts to investigate her husband's death. END COMMENT.
13. (SBU) The French continue to examine their consciences over the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, wondering what went wrong and what they could have done better. Six Rwandan survivors of the genocide formalized the issue when they brought suit in February 2005 against the GoF, accusing the French military of "complicity in genocide" by allegedly allowing Rwandan troops and Hutu extremists to enter camps where Tutsis sought refuge. The French troops, part of the UN-mandated Operation Turquoise, are also accused of such things as putting Tutsis in helicopters and then throwing them out to their deaths. The GoF has denied the charges.
14. (SBU) On December 23, 2005, the "procureur" (prosecutor) of the TAP opened judicial proceedings in the case ("information judiciaire," akin to a preliminary hearing) after months of investigation. In October 2005, he had declared that the case was not sufficiently supported to warrant a trial. The TAP "juge d'instruction" -- once again, Brigitte Raynaud -- continued to investigate to gather further evidence that would make the case suitable for trial. In November 2005, Raynaud obtained witness statements (apparently from the six plaintiffs) by traveling to Kigali to take their testimony, which she provided to the prosecutor on December 5. Raynaud's work was apparently sufficient to allow the prosecutor to move the case forward rather than dismiss it or ask for more evidence.
15. (C) COMMENT: Perhaps in response to this case and a new book, there has been a small flurry of debate these past weeks over the Rwandan genocide and France's role. In November 2005, well-known investigative journalist Pierre Pean published "Noires fureurs, blancs mensonges" ("Black Rage and White Lies"), which he claims "refutes the notion that France was an accomplice of the Rwandan genocide in the same way that Germany was during the Holocaust." He describes the book as "revisionism without any qualms." Its defense of French actions in Rwanda tends to buck the trend of authors more critical of France. Pean takes on other well-known journalists such as Colette Braeckman and Le Figaro's Patrick de Saint-Exupery, who have been apt to place a measure of responsibility on France for what happened in Rwanda. The debate has continued in the press -- General Jean-Claude Lafourcade, for example, published a defense of Operation Turquoise in Le Monde on January 5, but Patrick May, in a January 13 reply, countered by refuting Lafourcade's points and citing flaws in the General's analysis. The Rwandans' lawsuit, if it goes forward, will no doubt fuel the arguments on both sides, but whatever its outcome, is not likely to end the debate or ease consciences. END COMMENT.
Please visit Paris' Classified Website at: http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/paris/index.c fm Stapleton