• France edition
 
'Devil's advocate' lawyer Jacques Vergés dies
Jacques Verges, controversial lawyer named Devil's Advocate, whoc died on THursday in Paris. Photo: Olivier Laban-Mattei/AFP

'Devil's advocate' lawyer Jacques Vergés dies

Published: 16 Aug 2013 08:32 GMT+02:00
Updated: 16 Aug 2013 08:32 GMT+02:00

Jacques Verges, the provocative French lawyer who earned the nickname "Devil's advocate" by defending a series of high-profile criminals from Klaus Barbie to Carlos the Jackal, died in Paris
on Thursday aged 88.

Verges died of a heart attack around 8:00pm (1800 GMT) in the house where 18th century enlightenment philosopher Voltaire once lived - an appropriate setting for an iconoclast who devoted his life to defending unpopular causes, according to his publishing house Pierre-Guillaume de Roux.

"The ideal place for the last theatrical act that was the death of this born actor who, like Voltaire, cultivated the art of permanent revolt and volte-face," said the publisher in a statement.

Christian Charriere-Bournazel, the head of France's main bar association, told AFP that Verges had lost a lot of weight and mobility since a fall a few months ago.

"We knew the end was near but we didn't know it would come so soon," he said.

Born in Thailand in 1925 to a father from Reunion island and a Vietnamese mother, Verges was a communist as a student and later supported the Algerian National Liberation Front in its fight for independence from France.

After securing the release of Algerian anti-colonialist militant Djamila Bouhired, he married her.

Verges went on to become a high-flying lawyer, making headlines around the world thanks to a client list that includes some of the most infamous names of modern times: Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, Venezuelan revolutionary Carlos the Jackal, former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz and ex-Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.

One of his last high-profile cases was the defence in 2011 of his long-time friend, Cambodia's former communist head of state Khieu Samphan, who faced charges of crimes against humanity over the 1975-1979 Khmer rule.

Then aged 86, the short, bespectacled Verges delivered a pithy riposte to prosecutors who had spent two days detailing the horror the country suffered under the Khmer Rouge regime, during which up to two million people died through starvation, torture and execution.

The prosecution's version of events "sounded like a novel written by Alexandre Dumas about what happened in Cambodia," said Verges in a 10-minute speech, laced with a hint of irony and an occasional suppressed smirk.

Attacking prosecutors' "fantastical view of reality", he told the court: "Remember what monsieur de Talleyrand, Napoleon's foreign minister, another bandit, said: 'Everything that is excessive is vain'."

"Everything you said was excessive and therefore vain. May the tribunal remember that. I hope I haven't wasted your time, thank you very much," concluded Verges in a trademark summing-up.

Verges' life story reads like a novel, but there is one chapter that he prefers to leave unopened: from 1970 until 1978, when he left his wife and children and disappeared.

He has referred to this period as "the dark side" of his life, leading to much speculation about these missing years.

Among the more persistent theories are suggestions that he fostered ties with Palestinian militants, that he passed through Congo -- or that he lived in Khmer Rouge Cambodia.

Verges himself said he "passed through to the other side of the mirror."    

"It's highly amusing that no one, in our modern police state, can figure out where I was for almost 10 years," he told German newsweekly Spiegel in a 2008 interview.

On his return, he became the champion of extremists from both left and right.

He was an advocate of Palestinian violence against the "imperialism" of Israel but he also defended neo-Nazi bombers and leapt at the chance to expose what he saw as establishment hypocrisy in the Barbie trial.

Most of his clients lost their cases but Verges' flair was in courtroom provocation, attacking the prosecution and maximising the publicity of his defendants' cause.

Once asked by France Soir in 2004 how he could defend Saddam Hussein, after he said he was prepared to represent the Iraqi dictator, Verges replied: "Defending Saddam is not a lost cause. It's defending (then US president George W.) Bush that is the lost cause."

Verges, a lover of thick Robusto cigars and author of some 20 books, had his colourful life portrayed in the 2007 Cannes Film Festival documentary "Terror's Advocate" and starred in his own play in France, called "Serial Defender."

In his Spiegel interview, Verges caused a storm when he said "I would have defended Hitler."

AFP/The Local (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
QUIZ: Find out how French you've become
So how French do you think you are? Photo: Frenchman: Shutterstock

QUIZ: Find out how French you've become

It's impossible to be an expat in France without turning a little bit French. Take our quiz and find out where you land on the Frenchiness scale. READ  

French try to make surly shopkeepers kinder
Tired of bad customer service in France? Photo: Smiling worker: Shutterstock

French try to make surly shopkeepers kinder

Many Anglos have a dim view of customer service in France, but the French aren't happy either with how some shopkeepers treat them. Now a growing programme is labeling shopkeepers who you can expect to be friendly. READ  

Broadcasts cut as fire ravages French radio HQ
A massive fire cut broadcasting for many of France's public radio stations. Photo: France Bleu

Broadcasts cut as fire ravages French radio HQ

A massive fire ripped through the Paris building that houses studios for some of France's public radio stations, prompted broadcasts to be abruptly cut off. It's unclear what sparked the blaze. READ  

Metro and Train strike set for Tuesday in France
A train and metro strike is set for Tuesday in France. Photo: AFP

Metro and Train strike set for Tuesday in France

Commuters should brace themselves for travel chaos next week, with a train and Metro strike set for Tuesday, according to AFP. But it's not clear yet how big of an industrial action it's going to be. READ  

France tries to collect €10k from fatherless girl
The teenager was told last week that she must pay back €10,000 in just 15 days. Euros: Shutterstock

France tries to collect €10k from fatherless girl

A 13-year-old girl in western France has been told she must pay back the €10,000 that was given to her by the state after her sailor father was killed in an accident. READ  

National Front pulls in 'record membership'
The National Front party has a total of 83,000 members – the highest number in the history of the party. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

National Front pulls in 'record membership'

After a year of unprecedented electoral success, Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, anti-EU National Front party is attracting more members than ever before in the 42-year-old party’s history, French media has reported. READ  

Merah-inspired jihadists 'plot attacks in France'
Both men had been motivated by the actions of Mohamed Merah, a French-Algerian national killed by French police in March 2012 after murdering seven people. Photo: AFP

Merah-inspired jihadists 'plot attacks in France'

Morocco said on Thursday it has arrested two jihadists inspired by French terrorist Mohamed Merah who were planning to attack banks and multinational companies in France and in the North African country. READ  

Halloween in France
Paris Catacombs still draw thousands
A file picture shows skulls and bones stacked at the Catacombs of Paris. Photo: Patrick Kovarik/AFP

Paris Catacombs still draw thousands

A place of fear, legend, inspiration and exploration, Paris's skull and bone-lined Catacombs still draw thousands of visitors each year, many of whom queue for hours to explore the ghoulish burial site. READ  

French to try out high-speed Ebola test
The trial will include a prototype device unveiled last week, similar to a home pregnancy test, that may make diagnosis possible in under 15 minutes. Photo: Pascal Guyot/AFP

French to try out high-speed Ebola test

French researchers will conduct trials with prototype Ebola diagnostic tests in Guinea in November, with results expected within weeks for speedy deployment, the head of France's Ebola task force said on Thursday. READ  

Far-right mag's racial slur on minister nets fine
A racist magazine cover has resulted in a fine for a French publication. Photo: AFP

Far-right mag's racial slur on minister nets fine

A far-right publication that compared France's justice minister, who is black, to a monkey was hit on Thursday with a €10,000 fine for making racist statements. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
Offer: Unlimited airmiles from British Airways
National
Eight Halloween events not to miss in Paris
National
10 things to never say to a French person
National
Top 10: When French translations go wrong
National
Parisian bars that serve drinkers free meals
National
France falls to Germans in nude swim tourney
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Nowhere combines sex and art quite like France
National
Why you should never turn down an invitation to a French wedding
Sport
Discover the route of the 2015 Tour de France. There are a few surprises
Gallery
Ten changes that would make learning French so much easier
Culture
IN PICTURES: 'Glass ship' Vuitton ready to set sail in Paris
International
How a giant 'sex toy' earned an American artist a slap in Paris
National
'Unlike in the US the French don't put the blame on the poor'
Gallery
Cover up and don't be too Latin: French travel warnings for the US
Society
Macholand: The online uprising against sexism in France
Gallery
In pictures: The daily life of the 2,000 migrants in Calais
Culture
Erotic promo video earns the Musée d'Orsay our "Only in France" award
International
'I love the UK, but I could die getting there': Struggles of Calais migrants
National
Seven reasons why everyone should work in a bar in France
National
The cost of expat home comforts: How France compares to Europe
International
Why don't Calais migrants stay in France? The Local went to find out
National
What are the pros and cons of working as an au pair in France?
Society
Is France's generous welfare state about to get a little stingier?
Gallery
Extraordinary images of ordinary life in the poor Paris suburbs
Gallery
10 things expats love and loathe about life in France
National
So why don't many women in France breastfeed?
National
'Stop bashing La Belle France' - French PM tells UK press
International
UK warns Brits of 'high threat' from terrorism' in France
National
VIDEO: 'The Kama Sutra is not a dirty little text'
National
What Rome could teach Paris and vice versa
Gallery
What do foreign countries warn their citizens about when visiting France?
Gallery
IN IMAGES: Eiffel Tower opens new glass floor above Paris
Society
Is it really better to grow old in the UK and the US rather than France?
Gallery
It's that time if the year again: French sportsmen reveal (almost) all
Gallery
So what do the French find really weird about Anglos?
Travel
Paris museums to open seven days a week but unions are not happy
Culture
Caption contest: What happened when Jay Z met Sark O?
International
This explains why the French never seem to get a sense of déjà vu?
National
VIDEO: Here's a view from the Eiffel Tower you haven't seen before
Travel
Do Paris's iconic rooftops deserve Unesco World Heritage status?
Opinion
'France cannot reform, the pilots' strike showed us this'
National
'We just don’t work hard enough in France.' Is that true?
International
France has moved to beef up security in various public places
National
Hiking naked in France does not come risk-free
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se