Extremists in France harass Jewish official

PARIS — Ever since the extreme-right National Front won control over the Mediterranean port city of Toulon, French prosecutor Albert Levy has been working in a war zone.

But after police showed up at his home there early one Sunday morning last month and dragged him off to jail, he has been living a nightmare.

Levy is a determined enemy of corruption in the area of France with the highest rate of white-collar crime. His work over the last eight years has often resulted in his establishing links between an organized corruption network and local politicians.

When the xenophobic and anti-Semitic National Front won control of the Toulon municipality in 1995, Levy began receiving death threats and the extreme-right press launched an anti-Semitic campaign targeting him.

Yet he persevered in his work.

When the wife of National Front Mayor Jean-Marie Le Chevallier was found to be discriminating against non-Front members in filling city jobs, Levy refused to turn a blind eye and won her conviction.

Last month, a local magistrate succeeded in doing what the anti-Semitic diatribes had failed to: taking Levy out of action.

The prosecutor, who is Jewish, has been placed under investigation for "violating judicial secrecy." He is suspected of giving a local journalist court documents suggesting that members of the National Front municipality took bribes from a company awarded a contract to supply city school cafeterias.

Breaking judicial secrecy is a misdemeanor, although it is general practice in France, particularly in political corruption cases, with confidential court papers frequently appearing in newspapers.

It is part of a strategy by justice officials to publicize difficult and complex investigations.

But violators are rarely prosecuted, and few, if any, have ever been punished.

Nevertheless, Levy has been subjected to a series of humiliating measures, including a ban on practicing his profession pending trial, his lawyers say.

He has been released from jail but is under judicial surveillance, and has been ordered to consult court-appointed psychiatrists following an initial, summary examination which found he was "paranoid because he sees fascists everywhere."

"Is it odd to see a lot of fascists in a city controlled by the National Front?" his lawyer, Alain Jakubowicz, said.

"He is the victim of a political vendetta. They are not only trying to get revenge and keep him from pursuing his work, but they want to destroy him.

"If every magistrate, prosecutor or lawyer who violated judicial secrecy was banned from doing his work, the law courts would be empty," Jakubowicz said.

The left-leaning Magistrates' Union issued a statement supporting Levy and denouncing "the psychiatric alibi and the professional ban. Such measures are a troubling reminder of the practices used in authoritarian regimes."

Moreover, when the court psychiatrists examined the 47-year-old prosecutor last week, their questions focused on the fact that he is Jewish.

"How do you experience your Judaism?" they asked. "Did any of your relatives die in the Holocaust?"

While there is no clear proof regarding who may have orchestrated the campaign against Levy, his lawyers believe the National Front is behind it, with justice officials simply giving in to political pressure.