• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

'Devil's advocate' lawyer Jacques Vergés dies

AFP/The Local · 16 Aug 2013, 08:32

Published: 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.

Story continues below…

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
'War crimes committed in Aleppo': French UN envoy
A tractor clears rubble after a government strike on rebel areas of Aleppo. Photo: Thaer Mohammed/ AFP

France's envoy to the United Nations has called for an urgent Security Council meet on the war crimes he asserts are being committed in Aleppo.

'Curse of Phantom' strikes as Paris theatre burns
Anthony Crivello and Elizabeth Loyacano in the New York production of Phantom of the Opera. Photo: Really Useful Group

The curse of Phantom of the Opera has struck with a fire at a Paris theatre threatening the musical's French debut.

Two teenage girls held in France over 'terror plot'
The girls came from the same part of Nice, near Route de Turin, as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who carried out the nice attacks. Photo: Jesmar/Wikimedia Commons

Two teenage girls from Nice are being held on suspicion of planning a jihadi attack.

Focus
French fighter jet deal: India 'a school of patience'
Rafale jets at an assembly hanger in Merignac, southwestern France. Photo: Jean-Pierre Muller/AFP

The less-than-supersonic sale of French Rafale fighter jets to India has highlighted the obstacles facing foreign arms firms seeking to do business with the world's biggest weapons importer.

Hollande vows to 'completely dismantle' Calais Jungle
French President Francois Hollande visiting a refugee centre in Tours. Photo: Guillaume Souvant/AFP

President Francois Hollande has bowed to right-wing pressure and stepped up pledge to combat illegal migration.

First driverless minibus goes on trial in Paris
Gilbert Gagnaire, Director General of Easy Mile, poses in front of his driverless EZ10 minibus. Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP

The French capital's transport authority will carry out its first test of a driverless minibus on Saturday.

Feature
Room for improvement: Paris's matchbox apartments
Receptionist Ivan Lopez in his tiny "chambre de bonne". Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

Thousands of Parisians round off a hard day's work with a trudge up six flights of stairs to a tiny, stuffy room they resignedly call home.

Former president Chirac still in hospital but wife home
Bernadette Chirac executes a deal at the French Stock Exchange on September 12. Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP

Former French president Jacques Chirac remains in hospital in Paris but his wife Bernadette has now been discharged.

Pope holds multi-faith meeting with Nice victims
Pope Francis kisses a baby on arrival at his weekly audience in St Peter's Square. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/ AFP

Pope Francis will on Saturday hold a multi-faith meeting of grieving relatives and survivors of an attack in France in July when a jihadist ploughed his truck into a crowd in Nice.

Cameron school pal appointed UK ambassador to France
Ed Llewellyn has spent time in the European Commission. Photo: Gov.uk

Ed Llewellyn attended the Eton College at the same time as former PM David Cameron, and then served as his chief of staff throughout his eleven years as Conservative leader.

Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
France's Marion Cotillard rebuffs rumours of fling with Brad Pitt
National
Eight arrested over links to Nice truck attacker
Features
Why everyone should party in a French chateau at least once
Travel
The Frenchman who hated 'Nazi-Zealand' after four-day hitch-hike fail
Culture
What's on: Ten exciting events across France in September
The 45-million year old underground shells that flavour Champagne
Features
French job speak: All the terms you need to know
'Resilient' Paris now a more appealing city than New York
National
France says it's OK to warn drivers about speed cameras
Meet Honorine, 113, the oldest person in France
Education
Grenoble named France's best city to be a student
Society
New Metro map reveals cheapest pints of beer in Paris
Business & Money
How reliant is the French economy on Paris?
Society
Here's why Parisians want to move to Bordeaux
And the 'best place to spend a weekend in Europe' is… Lyon
Analysis & Opinion
'Muslims in France must be considered ordinary citizens'
Armed guards to ride French trains from October
National
France among Europe's priciest for train travel
National
Paris set to make river bank car-free for six-month trial
Society
Bordeaux hospital ranked as best in France
National
France rolls out 'world's first' driverless buses
Society
15 things a Frenchwoman can do to feel more British
Culture
Every fact you need to know about France's 'départements'
2,730
jobs available