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French Court Orders Release of Nazi Collaborator Maurice Papon - 2002-09-18

A French appeals court has ordered the release of Nazi collaborator Maurice Papon on medical grounds. The decision is surprising and controversial.

The appeals court in Paris based its ruling on a recently passed law, which allows prisoners to be freed if they are deemed too ill to remain in detention.

Several doctors came to this conclusion after examining Papon, who is 92- years-old and suffers from heart ailments and other health problems. His lawyer, Jean-Marc Varaut, told reporters the appeals court also decided that releasing Papon would not threaten public order.

Mr. Varaut said Papon is expected to live under state surveillance at his home near Paris.

A senior official in France's World War II Vichy government, Papon was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1998 for helping deport 1,600 Jews from southern France to Nazi concentration camps, where many died. At the time, he was in charge of the police in Bordeaux.

He is the highest-ranking former French official to be sent to prison for collaboration with the Nazis.

Following his sentencing, Papon fled to Switzerland. He began serving his term in October 1999.

Papon's lawyers have filed a series of petitions to free him on medical or humanitarian grounds. French President Jacques Chirac refused to grant the Nazi collaborator a presidential pardon.

French Justice Minister Dominique Perben expressed disappointment at the appeals court's decision.

In an interview with France Info radio, Mr. Perben said the government and prosecutors disagree with the court's decision, but will accept it.

French Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld, also expressed disappointment at Papon's release. Mr. Klarsfeld, who helped gather the evidence that convicted Papon, said the release gives him a "feeling of injustice."