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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: À Villiers-le-Bel, la police offre une prime à la délation

by Laurent Mouloud

French Police Offer Bonus to Informers in Villiers-le-Bel

Translated Monday 17 December 2007, by Gene Zbikowski

The Paris suburbs. The police are inviting people to give information anonymously about those responsible for the gunshots, in exchange for “a few thousand euros.”

On November 29, Nicolas Sarkozy called for “pulling out all the stops” to find the individuals responsible for shooting policemen during the outburst of violence in Villiers-le-Bel, a working-class suburb north of Paris. The message was received loud and clear: since last Saturday, the Versailles district Judicial Police charged with investigating a flagrant attempt at homicide, have been using techniques reminiscent of the Wild West to loosen tongues.

Nearly 2,000 leaflets have been stuck in letter boxes in the urban development zone where most of the confrontations occurred. The leaflets call for possible witnesses to give a sworn statement “anonymously” in exchange for a few thousand euros. “If you have any information, please call the crime squad’s toll-free number ...” the leaflet says. “The call is free and your anonymity will be protected. Any fact likely to steer the ongoing investigation in the right direction may be rewarded.”

Anonymous sworn statements, which are intended to break the “law of silence” that reigns in certain sensitive cases, became French law in 2002 and their use was extended by the Perben law of March 9, 2004. The procedure has enjoyed considerable media play, as was particularly the case in September 2006, when it became necessary to find the presumed culprits in the beating of two policemen in the Tarterêts housing project in Corbeil-Essones, south of Paris. On the other hand, never before has there been any official allusion to paying anonymous witnesses with hard cash. Such financial compensation has been limited, until now, to police “informers” placed in criminal networks and other Mafia-style organizations.

“The procedure is not necessarily illegal, but at the very least it is questionable,” said Hélène Franco, the general secretary of the judges association. “It seems to me that the Villiers-le-Bel case has received enough media play for local people to know that they can go to the police. This is a kind of Americanization of the investigation which seems pointless to me.”

Jean Espitalier, the regional director of the Versailles Judicial Police, said in an interview with Agence France Presse that he backed the procedure and pointed out that the leaflets were distributed “without any problem.” However a local policeman said less enthusiastically that “I’m in favor of anonymous statements ... they’re necessary in a housing project where everybody knows everything about everyone, and where people are frozen with fear but I’m against paying for the statements. There is too much of a danger of excesses and false statements which are only going to make the search for the truth more difficult.”

[The Judicial Police is the French equivalent of the Criminal Investigation Department in the U.K. or the FBI in the U.S.A. – translator’s note]

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