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The French Connection: Fighting Organized Crime and Terrorism in France

February 14, 2013

French Connection
French Connection
French Connection
French Connection
French Connection

Two judges who have been at the forefront of fighting both organized crime and terrorism in France appeared at Thomas Jefferson School on Thursday, February 14, at an event presented by the Center for Global Legal Studies with Director Professor Susan Tiefenbrun and TJSL’s International Law Society.

Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere is the former Chief of the French Judicial Anti-Terrorism Division and is famous for prosecuting the infamous assassin and political terrorist “Carlos the Jackal.”  Appearing with Judge Bruguiere was Judge Caroline Charpentier, an investigating judge with the courts in Marseilles, which is a hub of organized crime in France.

The two painted a fascinating picture of how the French judicial system goes after criminals as well as terrorists.  The biggest crime problems, especially in Marseilles, are weapons, drugs and human trafficking. Violence in that city is escalating at an alarming rate, according to Judge Charpentier.

“You need to strike people where it hurts,” Judge Charpentier said, outlining the tools the French authorities have at their disposal – especially their ability to quickly freeze assets and interrupt the flow of organized crime’s lifeblood: the money.  She added that they have the power to detain suspects for up to 96 hours without charging them and it is much faster to get wiretaps on suspected criminals. Also, they run checkpoints between the city and the suburbs of Marseilles to monitor cars for criminal activity.

Investigating Judges such as Charpentier have a different role and different powers than their American counter-parts – and can take a very active role in investigating cases as well as presiding over a given case.

One of the biggest issues they face is drug trafficking from North Africa – “an international criminal enterprise that is well organized,” according to Judge Charpentier. She talked about how the drug gangs use “fast cars” to quickly move the drugs along French highways – “using a scouting car, the fast car and a following car” to keep things moving.  The cars get through because there are random checks at the border. Unfortunately, she says “we have a porous border and the system needs to be reinforced. The criminals are always one step ahead of us, so it’s hard to stop them 100-percent.”

One of the things that makes the French system so effective at fighting crime and terrorism, according to Judge Bruguiere, is its specificity. “It is very flexible and adaptable, and we can anticipate what’s going to happen. If you conduct a war you should have the weapons and tools to fight it. But without a strategy to fight the war, you will fail.”

In the war on terrorism, France has enacted a set of laws that allow them to move swiftly and harshly against would-be terrorists. According to Judge Bruguiere, “the linchpin is the law to allow prosecution on charges of criminal association for terrorist purposes.” That allows them to go after criminals that “aren’t necessarily members of a known terrorist organization like Al Qaeda or part of a specific plot. ” But  those who help the terrorists with things like producing fake documents can be prosecuted uner the anti-terrorist laws.

“We can react at a very, very early stage,” Judge Bruguiere said. And one big difference he pointed out between the French and U.S. judicial systems is that “all evidence is admissible. And we don’t have to disclose how the evidence was obtained.”

Judge Bruguiere also spoke of France’s recent intervention in the African nation of Mali to prevent the northern part of the country from being taken over by Al Qaeda.

“It’s a very dangerous situation. They are trying to overthrow the regime and set up a new Taliban government,” he said. “But the president of Mali asked for the support of France and France responded very quickly with advanced weapons such as fighter jets. We want to avoid the destabilization of the area.”