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France

Hollande government fires three top cops

media Bernard Squarcini keeps his salary and status but is waiting for a new … Reuters

President François Hollande’s new Socialist government has fired three top French police officers, accused of being political appointments of former president Nicolas Sarkozy. The right-wing opposition has claimed that a “witch-hunt” is under way.

The highest-profile sacking is that of Bernard Squarcini, appointed head of the domestic intelligence service, the DGPN, by Sarkozy in 2008. The Socialists suspected of setting up a secret bureau to carry out the former president’s dirty work.

In 2003, when Sarkozy was interior minister, Squarcini was involved in the arrest of Corsican nationalist Yvan Colonna, who was later found guilty of the murder the island’s top official, Claude Erignac and promoted as soon as Sarkozy became president.

When the country’s two domestic intelligence services were merged in 2008, he became boss of the joint operation, gaining a reputation as a faithful and ruthless ally of the president.

Last year he was investigated over the alleged bugging of journalists investigating allegations that France’s richest woman, Lilliane Bettencourt, illegally funded Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign.

During the presidential election campaign, Hollande declared that there was a parallel state at the service of Sarkozy’s UMP party, adding “people connected to this system will obviously have to move over for somebody else”.

Squarcini has been replaced by veteran spy Patrick Calvar.

The other two sackings were of Paris prefect of police, Michel Gaudin, whose departure was announced by Interior Minster Manuel Valls on Tuesday, and national police chief, Frédéric Péchenard.

Dossier - The Bettencourt scandal

They have been replaced by Claude Baland, up until now prefect of police in the south-western department of Langeudoc-Roussillon, and Bernard Boucault, head of the prestigious Ecole nationale de l’administration.

Police unions were not surprised by the changes, commenting that top officials are usually changed when a new president takes power.

Sarkozy-era interior minister Claude Guéant commented that there was no legal problem with the sackings but objected to alleged slurs on their loyalty and competence.

UMP general secretary Jean-François cope declared that the “honour” of the three men had been “trampled on” and a “witch-hunt” was under way.

During the election campaign Sarkozy accused Hollande of preparing a purge of officials. 

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