Is French justice really independent?

The verdict fell this week. And not just any verdict. Five years in prison, including two years in prison, as well as ten years of ineligibility for former Prime Minister François Fillon. Two years suspended sentence for his wife. However, the affair that brought about the collapse of the last presidential election is far from over. Not only will the former Prime Minister, accused of having paid his wife for many years while she was not working, appeal, but French justice has not finished questioning the political interference that could have rush this condemnation.

In recent weeks, the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) has been in turmoil. Bringing together 18 magistrates, the PNF was created in 2013 by President François Hollande after the discovery of the account in Switzerland of the Minister of Budget Jérôme Cahuzac in order to track down serious economic and financial delinquency. Already, investigative journalists from the World Gérard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme had revealed the “extraordinary speed” which the PNF had shown in the case of who was the favorite candidate in the presidential election in 2017. And this, even though electoral campaigns have always been characterized in France by a sort of judicial truce.

“Huge pressure”

The affair was relaunched on June 10 by the explosive statements of Eliane Houlette. The former PNF president, now retired, admitted to having been “pressured” by her supervisor, the Paris Attorney General, Catherine Champrenault, when she was investigating the Fillon case. She referred to the “very numerous requests” of a public prosecutor’s office which interfered “daily in public action” with “an astounding degree of precision”. The magistrate admits to having felt these interferences “like an enormous pressure”. However, those who say public prosecutor’s office know that they are under the authority of the Minister of Justice and that information can go back to the presidency.

We monitored for 15 days my [relevés téléphoniques]. It violates the privacy of my private life, it violates my professional secrecy, it violates the secret of my correspondence. […] We don’t do that in Korea!

In her testimony, the magistrate even specifies that it was her superior who urged her “to change the procedural path, that is to say to open judicial information. Without this decisive choice, the offenses alleged against François Fillon would probably never have been tried since a law was in the process of being adopted to prescribe such acts going back more than 12 years. Exceptionally, the investigation was moreover entrusted to the most severe and most expeditious judge. Without this procedural choice, the presidential election would have been radically different.

Even if the magistrate denies any political pressure, these declarations caused such a blast in the world of justice that Emmanuel Macron had to seize the Superior Council of the magistrature. On the right, we are convinced that this is indeed this “black cabinet” whose action François Fillon had openly denounced in the electoral campaign. The leader of the group Les Républicains (LR) in the National Assembly does not hesitate to speak of the instrumentalization of “judicial proceedings for electoral purposes.

A note from the president

But it’s not just the Fillon affair. In recent days, while sitting on the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on the Independence of Justice, the PNF has been in turmoil for at least two other cases. Several deputies also asked the magistrates why they had abandoned an investigation for conflict of interest targeting Alexis Kohler, the current secretary general of the Élysée. He was suspected, when he was Emmanuel Macron’s chief of staff in Bercy, of having concealed the professional and family ties which linked him to the Italian-Swiss owner MSC.

The investigation opened in June 2018 was closed without follow-up in August 2019. This ranking is all the more “disturbing”, that it comes after the sending to the PNF of a note from President Emmanuel Macron published by the site Mediapart clearing its former chief of staff. According to Mediapart, the report of the investigators of the brigade of the repression of the economic delinquency was then almost entirely rewritten. A real snub for the PNF, after the revelations of Mediapart, a new investigation has been opened.

“Barbed methods”?

Never two without three. Last week, the weekly Point detonated a real bomb, revealing that the PNF had examined the telephone records of several lawyers. As part of the investigation into accusations of Libyan funding for the 2007 presidential election, the official objective was to identify a “mole” who could have informed former President Nicolas Sarkozy and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, that they were tapped. The outcry was so high among lawyers that the Minister of Justice, Nicole Belloubet, had to open an investigation.

Many lawyers also intend to take legal action against the state. “I have no confidence in the law,” said tenor of the Jean Veil Bar Association on LCI, whose telephone bills have been closely scrutinized. On the same channel, lawyer Éric Dupond-Moretti denounced “daring methods”. “We watched my fadettes for 15 days [relevés téléphoniques], my billing details for who I call and from whom I receive calls. It violates the privacy of my private life, it violates my professional secrecy, it violates the secret of my correspondence. […] We don’t do that in Korea! “

Seven years after its creation, some are calling for the abolition of the PNF, while others demand that it be given more independence. Among the first, deputy LR Éric Ciotti announced his intention to table a proposal in the National Assembly to abolish this institution in which he sees exceptional justice. The PNF was “created far too quickly, with no real vision or ambition to fight corruption,” said judge France Beatrice Brugère, secretary general of the Union-Magistrate SNM FO union, on France Info. Even if he admits that “faults have obviously been committed”, the lawyer Thomas Clay, who signs a column in The world, affirms that “those who demand the abolition of the PNF are those whom the PNF disturbs”.

Could it be that by creating the PNF in 2013 in order to fight financial corruption, François Hollande has created a monster that is today difficult to control? Certainly, the discomfort is far from over.

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