French anarchist sabotage trial turns to farce

Julien Coupat (centre) arrives at the trial on 13 March
Julien Coupat (centre) arrives at the trial on 13 March ALAIN JOCARD / AFP
Text by: Tony Cross
5 min

Ten years after being rounded up in a well-publicised raid by anti-terror police, defendants in a trial for the alleged sabotage of a rail line did their best to ridicule the prosecution and show their lack of respect for the court this week. The case, which started out as an accusation of a terrorist plot, appears to have been sparked in part by reports from a British undercover cop who has since been exposed by environmental activists.


"Monsieur Coupat, is it really necessary to eat your snack during the proceedings?" presiding magistrate Corinne Goetzmann asked the star defendant on the first day of the "Tarnac trial" as he bit into a cereal bar.

The following day she gently reproached him for drinking the Latin American drink maté in court, informing him he did not have "a monopoly on irony" when he protested that she had said he had the right to drink during the trial.

During the first two days Julien Coupat and fellow defendants joined their lawyer in interrupting prosecutor Olivier Christen and casting doubt on the police's evidence.

But on Friday Goetzmann took a more no-nonsense tone.

"I'm well aware that in this trial some defendants felt an anger that needed to be expressed, which is why it seemed important to me to let them [speak]," she said.

But, she went on, "That is not how a trial happens, the evidence must be discussed, people must listen to each other".

From terrorism to criminal conspiracy

On 11 November 2008, Coupat, 43, and his ex-wife, Yildune Lévy, 34, were among nine people arrested by some 150 police officers in front of TV cameras in a raid on a farmhouse in south-west France where they were all living.

Echoing the police's version of events, the right-wing interior minister at the time, Michèle Alliot-Marie, claimed that an ultra-left terrorist plot had been foiled.

The group was accused of being behind five acts of sabotage on the railway network in which steel hooks were hung on overhead cables, posing no risk to life but a serious threat of damage to trains.

Coupat and Lévy were finally accused of placing a hook on cables on a high-speed TGV line near Paris on 7-8 November 2008 and charged with terrorism.

But 10 years later the terror charges have been dropped.

Coupat and Lévy now stand accused of criminal conspiracy, along with Elsa Hauck, 33, and Bertrand Deveaud, 31.

Two of their comrades, Christophe Becker, 41, and Marion Glibert, 34, are charged with forgery or receiving stolen documents, and Benjamin Rosous, 39, and Mathieu Burnel, 36, are charged with refusing to give DNA samples, a charve four of the other accused also face.

Police report's inconsistencies

A key element of the prosecution case - a report by police who tailed them on the night of the crime - came under the spotlight on Friday.

The defence pointed to inconsistencies, including the fact that one of the officers signed another report in a police station in Levallois-Perret at the time he was allegedly following the suspects.

The prosecution claims he signed a fax sent from the station the next day.

Coupat and Lévy say they drove around the Paris region in Coupat's father's Mercedes because they knew they were being followed and that they tried unsuccessfully to book a hotel room.They claim the police at some point gave up tailing them and then invented the rest of the testimony after the act of sabotage was discovered the next day.

The defence's request for the police officers' phones to be traced to establish their whereabouts has been turned down on the grounds that their numbers are a state secret.

British undercover cop

The French police were allegedly tipped off about the Tarnac group by a British undercover police officer who has since been exposed by an environmentalist group he infiltrated.

Mark Kennedy, alias Mark Stone or Mark Flash, has been accused of being an agent provocateur.

He is also one of five British police officers at the centre of a legal case over their alleged deception of women into having serious relationships with them while they posed as activists.

Like several of the others, Kennedy has a wife and children.

He has since told the media that he was used by the police forces of 22 countries, has declared that he has regrets over the role he played and, according to the Guardian newspaper, sued the police for manipulating him and failing to protect him from falling in love with one of his targets.

Kennedy appears to have been the source for an account of a visit Coupat and Lévy paid to the US, crossing the frontier illegally from Canada to avoid having biometric passports.

They admit meeting like-minded people in New York but insist that their encounters were not a sinister global anarchist get-together, as it has been portrayed in the police account.

"I abhor being placed in the position of defending myself by a fake police officer," Coupat declared when refusing to plead innocent or guilty on the first day of the trial.

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