Diplomatic row over Sophie murder probe
State halts co-operation with French inquiry into producer’s unsolved killing
A DIPLOMATIC row is brewing after the Government suspended co-operation with the French authorities investigating the unsolved murder of film-maker Sophie Toscan du Plantier (39).
The effective stalling of co-operation has antagonised the French authorities, who may be pressed to take EU action against Ireland over the suspension of mutual assistance with a French investigation into the 1996 murder.
Legal advice will be sought by the Irish Government before any re-engagement with the French investigation.
It comes in the wake of “exceptional” revelations, in the Ian Bailey case, that secret recordings were made of telephone calls at Bandon garda station, where the |du Plantier murder investigation was centred.
The State is being sued in the High Court by Ian Bailey, the English journalist who was twice questioned – but never charged – in relation to the killing.
His partner Jules Thomas is also suing for alleged wrongful arrest.
Paris-based magistrate Patrick Gachon is waiting on permission from the Government to allow an elite team of French detectives travel to Cork to conclude interviews for his six-year probe into Sophie’s murder.
But under Irish law, the French can only conduct investigations on Irish soil by making a formal request to the authorities here for mutual legal assistance.
The French authorities have lodged a request with the Central Authority for Mutual Assistance in the Department of Justice – and could bring enforcement proceedings in the European courts if Ireland fails to co-operate with pan-European mutual assistance laws.
But last night the department said that although Ireland is obliged to deal in confidence with requests for mutual legal assistance in criminal investigations, it has had to reconsider co-operation with the Gachon inquiry in light of the Bailey case.
“Given the exceptional circumstances which have arisen in relation to this case, it can be confirmed that further consideration will be necessary before further action can be taken in response to requests for assistance from the French authorities,” said a spokesperson for the Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.
The spokesman added: “Ireland remains fully committed to meeting its international obligations in relation to mutual assistance.”
The self-styled campaign group, the Association for the Truth About the Murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier (ASSOPH), said all legal avenues would now be explored.
ASSOPH official Jean Antoine Bloc-Daude said the Irish delay was “a scandal... a catastrophe”.
He warned that Sophie’s heartbroken parents, Georges (88) and Marguerite (86) Bouniol, now fear that they may never see the truth emerge over what happened to their daughter. “They have suffered terribly for 17 years. Marguerite's health is so bad that they couldn't make it to Ireland this year,” he said.
Last April, Mr Bailey’s lawyers wrote to the department requesting that the Irish authorities refuse to further help the French investigation on the grounds that such assistance “would be contrary to public policy”, would breach Mr Bailey’s rights to ‘fair procedure’ under the Irish Constitution and would prejudice criminal investigations or criminal proceedings in the State”.
The letter also stated that it would be “entirely inappropriate” for this country to lend assistance to an inquiry by French authorities which is based “upon a flawed investigation”.
The lawyers, who threatened legal action against the State if it did not stop assisting the French, wrote again to the department late last month, seeking a reply.
The department responded on May 29 last, stating that it would take advice before any further co-operation.
Sophie’s son, Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud (33), urged the Irish authorities to resume co-operation with a Paris-based investigation into the killing.