PARIS - The European Court of Human Rights ruled yesterday that an aged Nazi collaborator, Maurice Papon, was denied a fair trial when France refused to allow him to appeal a 1998 conviction for war crimes stemming from his involvement in the wartime deportation of Jews to German death camps.
Attorneys for Papon, 91, who is serving a 10-year sentence in La Sante prison in Paris, said they would take the case to France's highest appeals court and, in the meantime, would seek Papon's immediate release. On Wednesday, a French court turned down a separate request by Papon's attorneys that he be freed on medical grounds.
Papon, the most prominent Frenchman to be brought to trial on war crimes in almost half a century, was convicted in April 1998 for having signed orders for the deportation of 1,690 Jews between 1942 and 1944 while he was chief of police of the Bordeaux region under the collaborationist Vichy regime of Marshal Henri-Philippe Petain.
After the war, he escaped punishment and resumed his career in the French administration, serving as police chief of Paris between 1961 and 1966, as a Gaullist legislator from 1968 to 1978 and as budget minister from 1978 to 1981. Although charges of crimes against humanity were brought against him in 1983, Papon managed to avoid trial for 15 more years.
The European Court of Human Rights, which is based in Strasbourg, France, ruled, "The applicant had suffered an excessive restriction of his right [of] access to a court and therefore of his right to a fair trial."
France's justice minister, Dominique Perben, said the ruling by a seven-member panel of the European court "does not have important consequences" because the law that prompted the denial of Papon's right to appeal was replaced in June 2000. "A judicial process is today on track," he said. "There is an appeal, and there will be a decision by judges. It is not my job to make any comment before or after that decision."
One of Papon's attorneys, Francis Vuillemin, wants to have the conviction annulled and seek a retrial.