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PARIS — French judges are questioning whether Didier Reynders, the EU’s justice commissioner, can impartially investigate what they describe as “grave attacks” by President Emmanuel Macron’s government on the independence of the French judiciary.
France’s two main judges’ unions, one believed to be left-leaning and the other apolitical, have previously expressed their concerns about Reynders – a former Belgian foreign minister – but are now questioning his impartiality over his long friendship with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in question.
In a letter dated April 21, the judges at the head of the two unions asked Europeans Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to step in and deal with the issue. The letter was also addressed to the Vice-President of the Commission Vera Jourova.
“We question whether Justice Commissioner Reynders can still handle this matter in accordance with his duty of impartiality,” says the six-page document seen by POLITICO, referring to what the judges called “serious attacks on independence.” of the French judiciary” designate Minister of Justice Éric Dupond-Moretti.”
The letter relates to months of disputes between judges and the accused Dupond-Moretti target judges Investigation of Sarkozy in a corruption case and of Block nominations for judges hostile to the former president, ostensibly for political reasons.
Sarkozy backed Macron ahead of his successful campaign for re-election as president.
The allegations have sparked a simmering conflict between judges in France and the Macron government, which has pledged to reform the judicial system.
“Several [news] Publications have shown a degree of closeness between Mr Sarkozy and his entourage, on the one hand, and Mr Reynders and members of his party, on the other,” the French judges’ letter read. They refer to a Belgian newspaper article reporting on a ceremony in 2013 where Sarkozy awarded Reynders a Medal of Honorand said the two men had forged a strong 20 year friendship.
The judges also cite Reynders in connection with an ongoing investigation into the circumstances surrounding the sale of French helicopters to Kazakhstan in 2010 when Sarkozy was president. Reynders, then a minister in the Belgian government, was suspected of using his influence to help Sarkozy and Kazakh and Uzbek businessmen. A Belgian probe into alleged corruption linked to the affair was closed, finding no evidence against Reynders. An investigation in France remains pending.
Reynders’ office did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this article. Dupond-Moretti’s office declined to comment on the records. Sarkozy’s office was initially unavailable for comment.
A spokesman for the EU Commission said it would “not comment or intervene in individual cases,” adding: “We continue to closely monitor developments related to judicial independence and the rule of law in all Member States, including France.” with the rule of law report”.
A smoldering argument
Sarkozy is at the center of the dispute between judges and the Macron government, the judges’ letter said. The former president was sentenced last year to three years in prison, two of which were suspended, for attempting to bribe a judge in exchange for information about an investigation into his 2007 campaign finances. Sarkozy has appealed the verdict.
Wiretapped conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer Thierry Herzog (who was also sentenced to prison in the same case) were central to the case and to Sarkozy’s defense strategy as he accused judges of conducting a politically motivated witch hunt.
When it emerged that Sarkozy and Herzog knew they had been heard, prosecutors launched a parallel investigation to examine phone records from several people suspected of tipping them off – including Dupond-Moretti, then a star -Defender and friend by Duke.
Back then, Dupond-Moretti filed a complaint against the public prosecutor’s office, arguing that the court responsible for the investigation had abused its powers. A few weeks later, in July 2020, Macron appointed Dupond-Moretti as his new justice minister, putting him in charge of the institution he had sued.
He withdrew his complaint, the new minister ordered an administrative inquiry into the judges overseeing the case and their boss – which “puts enormous pressure on the judges,” said Céline Parisot, one of the signatories to the letter to the two EU commissioners.
A subsequent two-month investigation found nothing illegal. Dupond-Moretti was later subject to a formal investigation into allegations that he used his position to settle scores with opponents. A decision about it is expected in June.
Asked what the judges’ unions wanted from the EU Commission, Parisot said the judges had hoped for “something more forceful” than an earlier response from Reynders, who said he would follow the ongoing investigation in France.
“In light of the facts that we have brought to the attention of the Commission… Mr Reynders… must now examine whether there have been conflicts of interest in a disciplinary action taken following a case involving a figure who appears to be close to him . We appear to have at least one situation that could reasonably be perceived as a lack of “objective” impartiality,” the judges wrote in their letter.
in one Video of October 2020, Dupond-Moretti said: “Some cannot deal with the fact that we could hold three judges accountable. Some accuse me of threatening the independence of the judiciary, but that independence is guaranteed by the Constitution and we are all very attached to it. But there is no right to do everything and ignore the rules.”
Macron has stood by his decision to keep Dupond-Moretti in his job despite criticism from judges and opposition parties, and has backed his minister’s defense that the judges’ unions are attack him for political reasons.
The judge’s letter was sent out just ahead of the second and final round of the presidential election and a much-anticipated government reshuffle.
The Elysée did not respond to a request for comment.
https://www.politico.eu/article/dider-reynders-france-judge-impartiality-rule-of-law/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication French judges question EU Commissioner Reynders' 'impartiality' in rule of law dispute - POLITICO