Europe

New questions over French minister Boulin's suicide

Fabienne Boulin-Burgeat, Robert Boulin's daughter, poses at her home with her book about his death, The Sleeper In The Valley, 25 January 2011
Image caption Fabienne Boulin-Burgeat has campaigned for a new inquiry into her father's death

A former policeman has raised questions about the verdict of suicide recorded in the death of prominent French cabinet minister Robert Boulin in 1979.

Francis Deswarte, who says he was the first policeman to see the body after it was found in a shallow pond near Paris, said Boulin had not drowned.

According to the official verdict, he drowned after taking barbiturates.

His family believe Boulin, tipped as a future PM before he was engulfed by a property scandal, was murdered.

His daughter, Fabienne Boulin-Burgeat, turned to the European Court of Human Rights in January after prosecutors in Paris refused last year to reopen the investigation into his death.

Her book about his death, The Sleeper In The Valley, was recently published.

'Taken off the case'

Speaking to French news website 20 Minutes, Mr Deswarte said he had been the first to see the minister's body in the pool in the forest of Rambouillet, on the morning of 30 October 1979.

Now aged 70, the retired head of the Poissy mobile brigade recalled being called out to search pools in the area for a "senior figure believed to have done away with himself".

After spotting a car behind a wood pile, he saw the body in nearby water, said to have been 50cm (19in) deep.

"He was kneeling, with his head out of the water, looking towards the car," said Mr Deswarte.

Asked about the official verdict of death by drowning, he replied: "Robert Boulin did not drown. It is not possible. He was virtually on all fours, his head out of the water.

"I am convinced that he was trying to crawl to the bank. And then, he had marks on his face like red scratches."

The former officer said he had been taken off the case 30 minutes later.

Two or three months afterwards, Mr Deswarte was called in for questioning and asked by police to change his version of the events, he told 20 Minutes.

"When I talked about the marks on his face, they explained to me that emergency workers had dropped the body when they removed it from the pond.

"But that is not true. I was there. The emergency workers removed it without any difficulty."

Asked why he had finally chosen to speak out, he said he had heard "a lot of lies" and wanted to tell the truth.

'Suicide letters'

According to the official version of Boulin's death, he killed himself after writing numerous letters, some of which he posted just before his death, some of which were found in his car.

In the letters, which have not been made public, he reportedly says that he "prefers death to being under suspicion".

In a note to police, he reportedly wrote: "I have decided to drown myself in a lake in the forest of Rambouillet, where I enjoyed horse-riding."

Boulin's family do not believe that he wrote the letters and have been asking for DNA samples to be taken from possible saliva on the envelopes.

As labour minister under President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Robert Boulin was well placed to succeed Raymond Barre as prime minister.

In the autumn of 1979, press reports emerged that the 59-year-old minister had abused his position to gain favourable terms for a series of property deals on the French Riviera.

Nine days before his body was found, Boulin, a decorated veteran of the French Resistance during World War II, publicly declared: "My soul and conscience are clear."

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