- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2008

PARIS | Among 27 prisoners granted French presidential pardons this holiday season is one with an unusual resume.

Jean-Charles Marchiani, a former secret agent, helped free French hostages in Lebanon in the 1980s and Bosnia in the 1990s, and served in the European parliament and as a governor in the south of France.

The influential conservative also has been convicted twice of taking big bribes for business contracts and is currently on trial in an international arms trafficking case. But President Nicolas Sarkozy decided that Marchiani had paid his dues and last week granted him a partial pardon that could see him freed soon.

Mr. Sarkozy’s enemies cried foul.

“How can we talk about justice when the same rules are not applied to everyone?” asked the leader of France’s main opposition party, Socialist Martine Aubry. She noted that Mr. Sarkozy rejected appeals for a mass early release for prisoners convicted of certain minor crimes.

Mr. Sarkozy was in Brazil all week, away from the fray.

The president’s office made no direct comment about Mr. Marchiani’s pardon, but issued a statement Tuesday announcing 27 partial or total pardons “motivated by acts of courage or bravery … exhibited during or before their incarceration.”

The CGT-Penitentiary prison workers’ union called the gesture “scandalous.”

“What an act of bravery, to reside in the VIP section of the La Sante prison,” the union said, referring to Mr. Marchiani, held in the La Sante prison in Paris.

Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Mr. Marchiani’s “personality and past actions were certainly taken into account” in deciding the pardon.

Four former French hostages in Lebanon appealed to Mr. Sarkozy to pardon Mr. Marchiani. So did Mr. Marchiani’s former boss - Charles Pasqua, an icon of France’s conservative establishment facing a tangle of corruption accusations himself.

Mr. Pasqua, a former interior minister, said “there is nothing extraordinary” about Mr. Sarkozy’s decision. “Let’s look at the services rendered, look at the risks undertaken, the courage that he exhibited, the results he obtained in freeing the hostages,” Mr. Pasqua said on RTL radio.

Mr. Marchiani, close to former President Jacques Chirac, rose to national political prominence after helping negotiate the release of three French hostages held by the pro-Iranian Islamic Jihad movement in Lebanon in 1988. They were among several foreigners, including Americans, held in Lebanon at the time.

In exchange, France agreed to restore diplomatic relations with Iran that were strained over the Iran-Iraq war, and paid off the last segment of a billion-dollar dispute over a nuclear energy project with Iran.

Mr. Marchiani was later accused of laundering money meant for use as a ransom for the hostages, though the French government has denied paying a ransom.

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