- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2004

PARIS (AP) — President Jacques Chirac has ordered an investigation into a report that a judge had been threatened with death before the panel she led convicted one of the French leader’s key political allies, the prime minister’s office said yesterday.

On Friday, a court in the Paris suburb of Nanterre handed former Prime Minister Alain Juppe a suspended 18-month prison sentence and barred him from holding political office for 10 years over his role in a party financial scandal.

The daily Liberation reported Saturday that Catherine Pierce, the head of the three-judge panel, recently had received a letter threatening her with death, and that other judges on the Nanterre panel were threatened and harassed.

Le Parisien newspaper published an interview with Mrs. Pierce on Saturday, saying unidentified people had searched court computers in the months before the verdict, and the judges believed that their personal and office phones had been tapped.

The statement yesterday from the office of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said judges had indicated that “there were threats and pressure on some members of the judicial body.” It also said unidentified judges had reported that people broke into the court before the verdict.

“If proven true, these events are of an extreme severity,” the statement said.

It was not clear from any account whether the pressure or threats were intended to force the judicial panel to convict Mr. Juppe or to exonerate him.

Mr. Chirac instructed Mr. Raffarin to set up a three-person commission to investigate. The commission would be made up of members of France’s highest administrative, financial and judicial bodies.

The commission is to report on its findings and recommend possible penalties by the end of the month, the statement said.

Mr. Juppe’s conviction stems from a bogus jobs scheme in the 1990s under which Paris City Hall paid salaries of some personnel of Mr. Chirac’s political party.

Mr. Juppe was the city’s finance director under Mr. Chirac, who was mayor for 18 years until elected president in 1995, and a leader in Mr. Chirac’s party, then called the Rally for the Republic, or RPR.

The court decision could herald legal problems for Mr. Chirac once he leaves office. For now, he is protected by presidential immunity.

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