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French Court Rejects Retrial of Nazi Collaborator

France's highest court rejected the request for a retrial by the country’s most famous Nazi collaborator on Friday: Ninety-three year old Maurice Papon will not get a chance to fight his conviction for war crimes.

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Maurice Papon has been fighting to clear his name since convicted in 1998.

The unexpectedly quick ruling by France's highest court came after just a few hours. The Court de Cassation, which examined whether proper legal procedure was followed ahead of Papon‘s conviction in 1998 for complicity in crimes against humanity and organizing the deportation of Jews to Nazi death camps, ruled that the country's most senior official from the pro-Nazi Vichy regime did not deserve a retrial.

The court was not asked to judge Papon's guilt or innocence, but whether there were legal grounds for awarding the collaborator a retrial as requested. It said there was no reason to oblige Papon and rejected his final attempt at appeal. Lawyers for Papon, who was not present during the court's deliberation, said they will ask the court's review panel to overturn Friday's decision.

Papon, who rose through the ranks of French politics following World War II to become chief of the Paris police and later federal budget minister, has been trying to clear his name ever since a court in the southwestern city of Bordeaux found him guilty of complicity in crimes against humanity in 1998. Papon, whose involvement in organizing the deportation came to light in the early 1980s after documents were discovered, claims he did not know of the fate of the Jews he deported and that he had only been following orders given to him by the Vichy government, which sided with the Nazis for most of World War II. He argued that he couldn't be held partially responsible for the ghastly crimes committed in the Nazi death camps, because he was removed by several "links in the chain."

Quest for a retrial

After serving only three years of the 10-year sentence, Papon was released for reasons of poor health. He then left France for Switzerland and requested a retrial of his case saying he could not be held accountable for crimes against humanity because he was indirectly involved. The appeals court promptly rejected Papon's request because he was not in France at the time. However, the European Court of Human Rights has since ruled that the French law requiring appellants to turn themselves over to police custody on the eve of their hearing violates EU law on fair trials. This opened the way to Friday's review.

The court's review of the appeal touched on a sensitive nerve in France, where the media has periodically pounced on the Papon case as an example of the extent of Nazi sympathy in France during the war. Members of the Association of Sons and Daughters of Deported Jews of France protested in front of the Justice Palace to demonstrate their anger with a legal system that could give someone like Papon a second chance to fight his conviction.

During World War II some 76,000 Jews, including 12,000 children, were deported from France, many to the death camps in Auschwitz. Only 2,500 of them survived.

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