Top French lawyer Olivier Metzner found dead

Olivier Metzner at the Paris courts on 23 November 2011. Mr Metzner had a string of well-known clients

One of France's best-known criminal lawyers, Olivier Metzner, has been found dead.

His body was found floating off his private island in Brittany.

A note was found at his home and an investigation has been opened, with police treating the case as suicide.

He made his name in a series of high-profile cases, defending the rogue trader Jerome Kerviel, former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, and Vivendi chief Jean-Marie Messier.

Mr Metzner was one of a handful of star lawyers in France, who between them have dominated the great court cases of the last two decades, says the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris.

Olivier Metzner's top cases

  • Former PM Dominique de Villepin: Cleared in 2010 of conspiracy to defame President Nicolas Sakozy
  • Rogue trader Jerome Kerviel: Convicted in 2010 of causing Societe Generale losses amounting to 5bn euros ($6.5bn; £4bn) in 2008
  • Former Vivendi boss Jean-Marie Messier: Given a three-year sentence and a fine in 2011 on charges of embezzlement and divulging misleading information
  • Continental Airlines: Cleared in 2012 of criminal liability in causing the crash of a Concorde in Paris in 2000.
  • Other top clients include former Panama leader Manuel Noriega, and the daughter of the L'Oreal heiress, Francoise Bettencourt

He successfully defended former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, when he was accused of a conspiracy to defame President Nicolas Sarkozy, but his client Jerome Kerviel - who caused billions of euros in losses at the bank Societe Generale - was convicted.

Other clients included the businessman and former head of Vivendi Jean-Marie Messier, who was convicted of fraud, and Continental Airlines, which was eventually cleared of criminal liability in causing the crash of a Concorde in Paris in 2000.

Rarely seen out of court without a large cigar, Mr Metzner was renowned for his intricate understanding of the most complex cases, and multinational corporations regularly sought his services, our Paris correspondent says.

If not quite a household name in France, he was an emblematic figure on the world of criminal justice, he says.

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