The so-called « Affaire Borrel » threatens to explode into a far-ranging political and diplomatic scandal, engulfing, among others, the former president, Jacques Chirac.
Judge Bernard Borrel, 39, was officially in the former French colony on the Red Sea – site of France’s largest military base in Africa – to help to reform the penal code. It has since emerged that he was also investigating alleged drugs and arms smuggling by the man who was to become Djibouti’s president, Ismael Omar Guelleh.
Borrel’s partially burned body was found at the foot of a ravine in October 1995. The local authorities, supported by Paris, declared that he had committed suicide.
For 12 years his widow, Elisabeth, has fought to prove that her husband was murdered. Last month President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to meet her – the first senior French politician ever to do so. He promised to ensure that all relevant classified information was released.
Within hours the chief public prosecutor in Paris released a statement confirming that the medical evidence proved that Borrel was murdered.
This week, two senior former French intelligence officers who were present in Djibouti at the time told a judge that Borrel was investigating the smuggling of drugs and arms through the strategically placed statelet at the junction of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
This « traffic » allegedly involved French citizens and Mr Guelleh – known as « IOG » – the nephew of the then president and the heir apparent to the role. Mr Guelleh was elected head of state four years later.
One unnamed intelligence officer – a former deputy head of the French equivalent of MI6 – told the investigating magistrate, Sophie Clément, that the judge’s death was always known by French authorities to have been a murder.
In his confidential testimony this week, which was leaked to the French news agency, Agence France-Presse, he said: « The (Djibouti) justice minister had asked M. Borrel to put together a dossier on all the trafficking involving Ismael Omar Guelleh. It was a way of building a case to keep IOG from power.
« The idea that [Borrel’s death] was suicide was ridiculous to anyone who knew the region. There were all kinds of threats… a clan war was going on. »
Mme Borrel and her lawyers have maintained for years that France tried to hush up the affair because it did not want to jeopardise its strategic interests in Djibouti. The statelet, with a population of 790,000, borders Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia and faces Aden across the mouth of the Red Sea. The large French military base there has been partially loaned to the United States since 2001 to help American operations in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.
In recent days it has also emerged that the French military in Djibouti knew about Borrel’s death two hours before his body was found by local police. Radio France Internationale has been accused of bowing to pressure from Djibouti and the French government to remove an investigative journalist from the Borrel story in 2005.
The affair has many other ramifications. Djibouti brought a case in the International Court of Justice in The Hague in January 2006 to try to force France to hand over its legal dossier on Borrel’s death. According to a document recently discovered by investigators at the foreign ministry in Paris, M. Chirac urged Djibouti to bring the case against France.
On Monday and Tuesday of this week, two other investigating judges raided the home of Michel de Bonnecorse, a former senior African adviser to M. Chirac. The former president has let it be known that he will refuse to answer any questions about the « Affaire Borrel ». He claims permanent legal immunity for all his actions while in the Elysée palace.
In an interview with Le Monde last weekend, the Djibouti President denied all knowledge of the affair. « The Republic of Djibouti was not involved, either closely or from afar, in the death of Bernard Borrel, » he said.
Source: Independent Online, July 13, 2007