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Maurice Papon Imprisoned in France

October 22, 1999

PARIS (AP) _ Maurice Papon’s life as a fugitive ended abruptly when Swiss authorities arrested the former Vichy official and expelled him to France, where he began serving a 10-year sentence Friday for deporting Jews who later died at Auschwitz.

Swiss police took Papon, 89, by helicopter to the French border town of Pontarlier. He was then transferred to the Fresnes prison in a southern Paris suburb, where he was incarcerated Friday night, prison authorities and the Ministry of the Interior said.

Papon fled to Switzerland on Oct. 11.

His capture ended the struggle for justice by relatives of some of the Jews whom Papon tracked down, arrested and sent to a French transit camp outside Bordeaux from where they were shipped to Auschwitz. Only a few survived.

``It’s a double triumph for us. He’s behind bars and showed he’s a coward,″ said Georges Geldman, who was rounded up at age 10 with his mother. He was released; she died.

Swiss Justice Minister Ruth Metzler told a news conference in the Swiss capital Bern that her government did not want to shelter someone sentenced for crimes against humanity.

Papon went to Switzerland to avoid surrendering to French authorities as required on the eve of his appeals hearing. France’s highest court, following due process, automatically rejected his appeal Thursday after he failed to appear.

A court in Bordeaux convicted Papon in April 1998 of complicity in crimes against humanity for his role in the deportation of 1,590 Jews from the southwestern French city.

Papon’s defense lawyers have asked to see their client, who no longer has the right to appeal. He could, however, ask for a presidential pardon.

Papon spent three days in jail at the beginning of his trial but was released on health grounds for the duration of the six-month trial and appeals period _ a controversial decision that finally allowed his flight.

He was arrested shortly after 10:15 p.m. Thursday at the Hotel Roessli in the mountain resort of Gstaad, 60 miles south of Bern, Lars Widmer, the son of the hotel manager, told The Associated Press.

He had checked in under a false name, his arrangements having been made by a friend.

Metzler said Papon was handed over to French authorities around 6 p.m. Friday in Pontarlier, where he had been taken by helicopter from Bern.

French President Jacques Chirac thanked Swiss authorities for their cooperation. ``Let the law prevail. The decisions of French justice can be respected″ now, Chirac said.

An international arrest warrant was issued Thursday by judicial authorities in Bordeaux following Papon’s failure to appear in court.

Papon became ill soon after his arrest, and was taken to the University Hospital in Bern, Swiss authorities said.

Wearing gray trousers and a dark vest, Papon walked unassisted to the French helicopter. The Fresnes prison has a hospital unit where he will be able to receive medical treatment.

In a statement Wednesday, Papon a former high-ranking police official in France’s pro-Nazi Vichy regime, maintained he had chosen exile to uphold his honor.

Papon checked into his Gstaad hotel Saturday under the name Robert de la Rochefoucauld, Widmer said. He planned to stay until Tuesday, and had a visit Wednesday from a woman claiming to be his niece.

``Everything went very quietly″ when Bern state police officers arrived late Thursday although Papon initially pleaded poor health to try to avoid arrest, he added. But ``then he went without making a big scene.″

``My father thought he wasn’t very distinctive,″ Widmer said. ``He saw Papon’s picture in the paper and said to me, `He looks almost like the man in room 115.‴

In Paris, lawmakers at the National Assembly, the French parliament, broke into applause at the news that Papon had been arrested.

Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld, the head of the Association of Sons and Daughters of Deported Jews of France, told France Info radio Papon’s arrest represented ``a triumph of justice.″

Swiss officials said Papon stayed under a false name at a hotel in the western Swiss town of Martigny from Oct. 11 to last Saturday, before moving to Gstaad.

Papon is the highest-ranking official of the pro-Nazi Vichy regime to be convicted of crimes against humanity committed during World War II.

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