World

Naughty Business

‘Whore of the Republic’ shakes the French establishment

Barry Came April 2 2001
World

Naughty Business

‘Whore of the Republic’ shakes the French establishment

Barry Came April 2 2001

Naughty Business

World

‘Whore of the Republic’ shakes the French establishment

Barry Came

The trial ended as it had begun, with all attention focused on the slender woman who calls herself “The Whore of the Republic.” She sat in the dock, elegant but forlorn, dwarfed by the soaring murals and carved oak of the Paris courtroom, which is barely a stone’s throw from Notre Dame Cathedral. Her dark hair fell over her face when she bowed her head to listen to her two lawyers, dressed in black robes and white bibs, address the panel of four judges, all women. “Christine Deviers-Joncours has been cruelly treated by fate,” said one of the lawyers, Béatrice Zavarro. “She has been a victim of a love that was too strong.” Her only guilt, continued her other lawyer, Sophie Bottai, was “an abuse of sentimental benevolence.” Added Bottai: “She entered a world of men, made by men, for men, and she brought all of these men a lot of money.” Precisely how much may never be known. But if the prosecution’s charges are correct, it amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars, all of it looted a decade ago from the coffers of the then-state-owned oil conglomerate Elf Aquitaine during the dying days of the late French President François Mitterrand’s regime. Deviers-Joncours, now 53, worked for Elf at the time, enjoying a small salary but a nearly unlimited expense account, alleged to amount to $45,000 a month. Her only duties, the prosecution alleges, were to both lobby and channel Elf funds to the man who was then her lover, Roland Dumas. Now 78, Dumas was French foreign minister a decade ago, a close friend and confidant of Mitterrand, who eventually appointed him president of France’s constitutional court, in effect making him the highest-ranking judge in the country. The prosecution claims that, while his mistress worked for Elf, Dumas enjoyed the benefits of at least $14 million in illegal Elf commissions she received along with a host of other benefits, including a lavish Left Bank apartment to conduct his illicit love affair.

Prosecutors are demanding jail sentences and steep fines for all those involved, and the court is expected to hand down a ruling on the case on May 30. The verdict will be closely watched. The trial in Paris is only the first to reach court of several parallel judicial investigations, all commenced seven years ago, into Elf’s tangled affairs. The oil company is now

part of the conglomerate, TotalFinaElf. But when it was a stateowned company, it was utilized for years by successive French governments as an unofficial channel to quietly support French interests in Africa, Asia and elsewhere. Elf’s “black” funds played a role in the recent scandal that disgraced former German chancellor Helmut Kohl and still plague the political prospects of Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union party.

And since the Deviers-Joncours case went to court in January, it has offered a rare glimpse into Elf’s “black” funds and the political and sexual shenanigans of former president Mitterrand’s inner circle. The cast of characters is larger-than-life, worthy of the soap opera it has become on the nightly newscasts. There is Deviers-Joncours herself, a twice-married mother of two who first went to jail to avoid testifying against her ex-lover, then reversed course to tell all in a book entitled La Putain de la République ( The Whore of the Republic). There is Dumas, silver-haired and still dapper, an aging boulevardier limping into court each day on an ebony cane, darkly threatening to “take care of certain magistrates.”

And finally, there is Alfred Sirven, 74, keeper of Elf’s “black” funds, a fugitive whose four-year flight ended in a hideaway in the Philippines on Feb. 2. He took the precaution on his arrest of chewing the SIM card in his cellular telephone, which carries details of calls made and received. French investigators believe Sirven holds the key to unlocking the scandal. His name appears I no less than 3,649 times in ongoing French and I Swiss judicial investigations into official cor! ruption involving Elf.

£ In their testimony, the accused in the Paris court—Deviers-Joncours, Dumas and three former Elf executives—pointed to Sirven as the key figure in the misuse of Elf funds. But that did not prevent Sirven’s co-accused from warmly welcoming him as he finally showed up in Paris last month. When police escorted him into the ornate courtroom on the Ile de la Cité, Dumas warmly shook his hand and Deviers-Joncours pecked him on each cheek.

Any hopes that Sirven might shed some light on the matter were quickly dashed. The man who once boasted that he knew enough about high-level French corruption to “blow up the Republic 20 times over” refused to testify, preferring

to remain mute instead behind bars at Paris’s La Santé prison if the judges would not grant him a new trial.

In the absence of Sirven’s testimony, both the court and Frances eager public were left to guess at the motivation behind the tantalizing largesse bestowed upon Dumas and Deviers-Joncours. In addition to a “golden key” to the now-famous Left Bank apartment on the rue de Lille, the couple wallowed in luxury. Among the items submitted as evidence in the trial were bills for $42,000 worth of meals during one single month at Le Pichet, an exclusive restaurant on the tony Right Bank of the Seine. In 1991, Deviers-Joncours gave Dumas a $2,500 pair of leather ankle boots from Berluti, another fashionable Right Bank establishment.

According to the prosecution, all of these gifts and benefits were intended to persuade Dumas to use his influence to further Elf’s ends, including the 1991 sale of French naval frigates to Taiwan. “This trial,” said prosecutor Jean-Pierre Champrenault in his three-hour summation, “is a story of perverted ambition, thrusting climbers and wayward politics.”

Resting his case last week, Champrenault demanded heavy fines and lengthy prison terms for all of the principals involved. He recommended that Dumas be sentenced to two years in

jail and fined $500,000. For Sirven and former Elf chairman Loik Le Floch-Prigent, 57, he urged the judges to impose the maximum sentence of five years in prison. And for DeviersJoncours, he asked for a three-year prison term, with one year suspended, and a $215,000 fine.

All the defendants deny the charges levied against them. In his final summation last week, Dumas’s lawyer, Jean-René Farthouat, argued that the prosecution had failed to prove that his client had either secured his mistress a job with Elf or benefited from the money she then received. “Perhaps in his passion he was led to behave with a little blindness,” Farthouat told the panel. “But you are not here to pass judgment on morality. You are here to judge this case.”

Deviers-Joncours’s lawyers chose to portray the woman as a victim of love and the cynical machinations of the men around her. “She thought that Roland Dumas would divorce his wife to marry her,” said lawyer Zavarro. “In the name of love, she gave all those gifts. She had no intention to defraud.” Now, it is up to four judges to decide if Deviers-Joncours was led astray by love or greed. EZ3