Monday, October 25, 2010

The Bettencourt Affair, encore et toujours

The Bettencourt Affair is back in the news. The prosecutor and the investigating magistrate have been quarreling in public, and the former is investigating the latter for leaks to the press, while the press is suing the government, alleging that the law was violated. Recently I was interviewed by the US correspondent of a major French daily. I don't think a published story came of it, but I found the line of questioning interesting. I was asked what an American found most shocking in the story. My answer was the lack of independence of the judiciary. In the US, I said, a case touching a government minister would probably lead to the appointment of a special prosecutor.

But I also said that the origin of the scandal was itself shocking: the invasion of privacy, the publication of recordings of private conversations, etc. (To be sure, we had the publication of the Lewinsky-Tripp recordings here.) And so was the continuing stream of leaks from investigators. It seemed that no part of this investigation could be conducted out of the public eye. Witnesses, lawyers, investigators, possibly judges and prosecutors, and high government officials all fed the insatiable curiosity about the story. This seems to have shocked the new president of the Tribunal de Nanterre as much as it did me. (For additional comment, see the always pungent Philipe Bilger.)

I am curious about one thing. I had assumed that Sarkozy refused to part with Eric Woerth because he needed him to handle the retirement reform. But it's hard to see now how his role was essential. Perhaps it was better to keep the former treasurer of the UMP "inside the tent pissing out," as Lyndon Johnson used to say, rather than "outside the tent pissing in."

1 comment:

MCG said...

Perhaps your sources can help us all understand just what the attributes of an investigating magistrate are. Are they independent? More or less independent than a special prosecutor? My understanding was that when Eva Joly was on the Elf case as investigating magistrate, the independence of the role enabled her to turn up malfeasance among the powerful.