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Court: Nazi collaborator denied a fair trial

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that an aged Nazi collaborator, Maurice Papon, was denied a fair trial when France refused to allow him to appeal a 1998 conviction for war crimes stemming from his involvement in the wartime deportation of Jews to German death camps.

Lawyers for Papon, 91, who is serving a 10-year sentence in La Sante prison in Paris, said they would now take the case to France's highest appeals court, while seeking Papon's immediate release. On Wednesday, a French court turned down a separate request by his lawyers that Papon be freed on medical grounds.

Papon, the most prominent Frenchman to be brought to trial for war crimes in almost half a century, was convicted in April 1998 for having signed orders for the deportation of 1,690 Jews between 1942 and 1944 while he was chief of police of the Bordeaux region under the collaborationist Vichy regime of Marshall Henri-Philippe Petain.

After the war, he escaped punishment and resumed his career in the French administration, serving as police chief of Paris between 1961 and 1966, as a Gaullist legislator from 1968 to 1978, and finally as budget minister from 1978 to 1981. Although charges of crimes against humanity were brought against him in 1983, Papon managed to avoid trial for 15 years more.

In its decision Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights, which is based in Strasbourg, France, said "the applicant had suffered an excessive restriction of his right to access to a court, and therefore of his right to a fair trial."