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France11 May 2007

With many journalists watching, judge gives up attempt to search Canard Enchaîné

Reporters Without Borders condemned a judge’s unsuccessful attempt today to search the offices of the Paris-based satirical magazine Canard Enchaîné as part of an investigation into alleged violations of judicial secrets in the so-called Clearstream affair.

“The recourse to such procedures with the aim of identifying journalists’ sources is unfortunately only too frequent in France, despite the fact that the European Court of Human Rights has on several occasions reaffirmed the principle of the inviolability of the confidentiality of sources,” the press freedom organisation said.

“It is this principle that guarantees the existence of investigative journalism, without which the press would be unable to fulfil the role it is meant to play in a democracy,” Reporters Without Borders added.

The Clearstream affair centres on the circulation of a bogus list of beneficiaries of alleged defence contract kickbacks laundered through the Luxembourg clearing bank Clearstream. President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy’s name was included on the list with the apparent aim of sabotaging his ambition to succeed President Jacques Chirac.

Today’s attempt to search Canard Enchaîné’s offices was led by investigating judge Thomas Cassuto, who arrived outside at around 9:30 a.m. with the intention of trying to establish the sources for an article headlined “From the false Sarkozy account to the real Chirac account,’ which was published on 10 May 2006.

When the newspaper’s staff refused to open the door, the judge decided to use the services of a locksmith to get in, but he finally gave up and left at 12:30 p.m. because of the presence of many journalists.

Canard Enchaîné editor Claude Angeli told journalists the judge had been looking for the newspaper’s copy of the sworn testimony which Gen. Philippe Rondot, an intelligence official, gave to investigators last year. Journalists from Canard Enchaîné, Nouvel Observateur, Libération, Le Monde and Le Parisien were all questioned on 14 December in connection with the leak.

Angeli told Reporters Without Borders he was “alarmed” that such a search could have taken place. “Newspapers publish information that inevitably upsets authorities of all kinds,” he said. “This is an unavoidable power struggle. We are not in the situation of other countries such as the United States where journalists are imprisoned for refusing to reveal their sources, but this kind of pressure is nonetheless intolerable.”

Another Canard Enchaîné journalist, Louis-Marie Horeau, said: “The French police continue to act in a way that violates the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, so amendments to the law must be envisaged.”

At justice minister Pascal Clément’s behest, Cassuto and another judge, Françoise Desset, are conducting this investigation into the sources of leaks for articles that appeared in several different publications between 14 April and 12 May 2006. As part of the same investigation, judge Desset today went to the offices of Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog.

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