Montgolfier, a real prosecutor

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Montgolfier, a real prosecutor

“This Friday, he will retire. Some will let out a sigh of relief, and others will have a cold smile. But for most citizens, it will be remembered as a moment when justice loses one of its faithful knights.”

In late June, the French daily newspaper Le Figaro reported the retirement of Eric de Montgolfier, general-prosecutor of Bourges in central France. The 67-year-old defender of justice may be the only prosecutor that is a household name in France. I don’t recall seeing other names of police executives or prosecutors highlighted in France, a highly “advanced” society where citizens have no reason to pay attention to the promotions and appointments of prosecutors.

Montgolfier first received the media’s spotlight for tackling a match-fixing scandal in professional football in 1994.

After Olympique de Marseille won five consecutive league titles, he launched an investigation of the famous football club’s 12-year president, Bernard Tapie. Tapie allegedly ordered his players to contact three players from Valenciennes to help the team win.

Tapie is a former minister and was then the owner of Adidas, with extensive connections in politics, business and sports. Many French people expected that the investigation would be limited to the club executives. However, Montgolfier, then head prosecutor in the city of Valenciennes, persistently tracked down witnesses, and Tapie was sentenced to two years in prison.

Montgolfier later recalled that when Tapie appeared for inquiry, he boasted that he had just met with President Francois Mitterrand at the Elysee Palace and would say good things about the prosecutor next time he meets the president.

Later, Montgolfier returned to public attention as he discovered that the judiciary had postponed trials or “lost” investigation files to help wealthy offenders. It was unprecedented for a public prosecutor to investigate corruption in the courts.

When he was working in Nice in 2009, he had obtained a list of secret account holders at HSBC in Switzerland. He had discovered the document from the residence of his father, a former banker, and the investigation led to a tax audit, probe and voluntary tax payments.

Montgolfier spent his entire life in regional offices. The Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy governments kept this untamed prosecutor in minor regions. Tapie and Sarkozy called each other “friends.”

Then, a year before his retirement, the new socialist administration promoted Montgolfier to general-prosecutor in Bourges. Recently, he told the media that he initially thought to decline the appointment, but changed his mind in consideration of the pension payment for his wife after he passed away. Upon retirement, he has been writing a book about criminal and judicial justice.

The ongoing turmoil in Korea’s prosecutor’s office reminded me of Montgolfier. I want to see a prosecutor who is praised and applauded upon his exit.

*The author is a London correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.

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