• 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)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Tourists picnic with rats in Louvre gardens
Another Parisian rat. Photo: Jean-Jacques Boujot.

Tourists picnic with rats in Louvre gardens

VIDEO: The lawns of the Louvre, a favourite picnic haunt of tourists and Parisians, are offering visitors a real-life Ratatouille experience after being invaded by rodents. READ  

Lion wounds 16-month-old child at French circus
A lion injured a child at a French circus. Photo: Alexandre Imamura/Flickr

Lion wounds 16-month-old child at French circus

A lion reached out of its cage and scratched a 16-month-old girl at a circus in France on Sunday, sending the child to the hospital with injuries to her head and back. She was luckier than a previous victim of a circus animal attack in France. READ  

Marseille: Pro-Israel march held amid tension
Thousands march in support of Israel in Marseille. Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP

Marseille: Pro-Israel march held amid tension

Up to 6,000 demonstrators marched through the French city of Marseille on Sunday in support of Israel. The rally was held amid tight security as dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters tried to disrupt the demonstration. READ  

Irishman plummets to his death on Mont Blanc
Two climbers incuding one Irishman were killed in a fall on Mont Blanc on Sunday. Photo: Philippe Merle/AFP

Irishman plummets to his death on Mont Blanc

Two climbers, including one Irish national were killed in a fatal fall in the Mont Blanc range on Sunday. It comes after an American businessman outraged French authorities for trying to scale the mountain with his young children. READ  

French nationals told to flee chaos in Libya
Libyan security services and civilians gather across the street after a car bomb attack on the French embassy in Tripoli, Libya on April 23rd, 2013. Photo: Mahmud Turkia/AF

French nationals told to flee chaos in Libya

France has warned its nationals to leave Libya due to the worsening security situation there and the threat of terror attacks. French warnings come amid similar calls for evacuation from other European nations and the United States. READ  

Air Algérie crash: France mourns, seeks anwsers
This photo shows debris of the Air Algerie Flight AH 5017 scattered at the crash site in Mali's Gossi region, west of Gao, on July 26, 2014. Photo: AFP

Air Algérie crash: France mourns, seeks anwsers

France was mourning on Monday as investigators continued their hunt for clues that could explain the cause of the Air Algérie crash that killed all 118 people on board. The two black boxes from the aircraft were flown to France on Sunday. READ  

Italian Nibali wins 2014 Tour de France
Italy's Vincenzo Nibali (R) wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey toasts champagne with Astana teammates. Photo: Jean-Paul Pelissier/AFP

Italian Nibali wins 2014 Tour de France

Italian Vincenzo Nibali won the 2014 Tour de France on Sunday after the final stage that ended on the famous Champs-Elysees avenue. Frenchmen Jean-Christophe Peraud and Thibaut Pinot finished second and third. READ  

Truck driver in family death had used cocaine

Truck driver in family death had used cocaine

The driver of a truck that crossed to the wrong side of a French highway and crushed to death a family of five travelling in the opposite direction tested positive for cocaine use, the investigating prosecutor said Saturday. READ  

Scores of arrests at banned pro-Gaza protest
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators spray fumes with the colours of the Palestinian flag, on the Republique square in Paris, during a banned demonstration against Israel's military operation in Gaza and in

Scores of arrests at banned pro-Gaza protest

French police arrested 70 people at a banned pro-Palestinian protest in central Paris on Saturday that degenerated into clashes between demonstrators and armour-clad riot squads. READ  

Flight AH5017 tragedy
Second black box found from Air Algerie crash
A French soldier stands at the crash site of the Air Algerie Flight AH 5017 in Mali's Gossi region, west of Gao, on July 26, 2014.

Second black box found from Air Algerie crash

UN experts investigating the Air Algerie plane disaster in Mali have recovered the second black box from the doomed plane, a spokesman of UN peacekeepers in the country said Saturday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Why you should think twice about feeding stray cats in France
National
And the new redrawn map of France will look like...?
Politics
Is French President François Hollande about to tie the knot?
International
Want a long-term visa? You may soon have to take a French test
International
Votes for foreigners: 'France would be giving up its sovereignty'
National
VIDEO: Stuntman jumps onto a moving Paris metro... and survives
Gallery
Forget 'faire l'amour', here's 15 top French expressions for making love
National
Report - 'Anti-Semitic' riots in France: 'We may leave for Israel'
National
Paris Plages: Here's 10 reasons to head down to the city beach
International
'Mont Blanc is like Disneyland. It's time to end the free-for-all'
Travel
Fancy climbing Mont Blanc? Here's 10 reasons to think twice about it
Gallery
Looking for a weird museum in Paris? Here's 10 that are worth a visit
National
Clear your head: Eight tips for buying wine in a French supermarket
National
'Don't blame the labour market for France's unemployment woes!'
National
Job applicants in France: Be prepared to send in an anonymous CV
Sport
'Bouligans' to booze bans: Ten things you need to know about pétanque
Gallery
Driving in France: How to stay out of trouble on the roads
Travel
Ten essential free phone apps for a visit to Paris
Gallery
Like cycling? Love France? See the top ten best cycling routes in France
International
'They think beer is a vegetable': What the French really think of Germans
National
Sarkozy's dream of a 2017 comeback is not dead yet
Gallery
Ten reasons why France is better than Germany (we're not talking football)
Gallery
Paris in Summer: Ten things to do on a shoestring
Sponsored Article
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
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