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France

Notorious anti-corruption campaigner eyes French presidency

Text by Gaëlle LE ROUX

Latest update : 2010-08-22

Eva Joly, a Norwegian-born French magistrate known for hounding corrupt businessmen and politicians, will likely stand as a presidential candidate for France’s Greens in the 2012 election.

 

She is the bane of corrupt businessmen and politicians, and received death threats while working as an investigating judge in France.
 
Now Norwegian-born Eva Jolie has turned her hand to politics - and looks set to stand as a presidential candidate for the French Green Party (Europe Ecologie) in the 2012 elections.
 
“If the party chooses me, then so be it,” said the 66-year-old MEP, who has been in politics for barely two years.
 
Some in the party, including senior members, initially doubted her aptitude for leadership. Most have come round.
 
French senator and Green Party member Dominique Voynet told France’s left-leaning Le Monde newspaper that Joly had taken to politics like a duck to water.
 
“She’s a quick learner,” she said. “She absorbs everything and she has taken the green movement as her new identity.”
 
Crusade against corruption
 
Not always so – Eva Joly is best known in France for her personal crusade against corruption to which she has dedicated 30 years of her working life, both as a judge in financial cases on the Paris bench and also as a corruption trouble-shooter in her native Norway.
 
The upper echelons of politics and finance have vivid and often painful memories of her – Eva Joly is known for her absolute fearlessness in the face of power.
 
She made her name in big corruption scandals in the early 90s, including the prosecution of infamous businessman and then government minister Bernard Tapie.
 
In 1993 a case landed on her desk that was to cement her reputation.
 
At first glance the dossier concerned a textiles company with suspect financing. However, Joly began to uncover a vast network of corruption and money laundering that pointed to French petroleum giant Elf as well as a number of senior political and business figures.
 
The case resulted in a swath of criminal convictions, including Elf’s top two executives Loïk Le Floch-Prigent end Alfred Sirven, and led to the resignation of Roland Dumas, president of France’s Constitutional Court.
 
Death threats
 
In her eight years handling the Elf case, Joly came under harsh criticism, including relying too much on her contacts in the media at the expense of the integrity of the legal system and levelling unfair accusations against innocent people.
 
The threats got increasingly menacing – one day she found pinned to her office door a list of assassinated judges with their names crossed out. Her name was at the bottom of the list, implying that she was next. Later, her car was sabotaged.
 
The message was clear – one does not attack the powerful with impunity. But Joly, despite having to have personal bodyguards, not only survived the threats but came through with a reputation for honesty and incorruptibility.
 
Off to Norway
 
Exhausted, Joly resigned from the bench in 2002 – where she had earned the nickname “Eva the Diva” – and left for her native Norway, where she became a government advisor on international corruption.
 
Her work for the Norwegian government took her across the globe. In seven years her name was barely mentioned in France, surfacing only in 2003, when she published, with Italian anti-corruption judge Antonio Di Pietro, the “Paris Declaration”, denouncing "the devastating impact of high-level corruption and the levels of impunity that facilitate it" and calling for "national and international measures to combat it".
 
At the same time Joly, under the auspices of the Norwegian government, created “Network”, a private grouping of senior judges and investigators involved in the fight against corruption which gives advice and assistance to a number of developing countries.
 
The political fray
 
She returned to France in 2008, convinced that only by entering politics could she continue the fight against corruption.
 
“I was a magistrate for 20 years, a diplomat for Norway for seven more and I have learned a lot,” Joly said in Febrary 2010 in a FRANCE 24 interview on the eve of local elections in France.
 
“I am going into politics because I recognise the limitations of voluntary action … I have a strong desire to improve relations between the developed and developing world. I want to change power structures within society. I am desperate to see a more just and more united society.”
 
In 2008 Joly joined Europe Ecologie, a grouping of France’s various Green movements and the following year was elected to represent the Paris area at the European Parliament.
 
Since her election she has criticised the French government continuously, demanding Labour Minister Eric Woerth’s resignation as soon as the scandal involving L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt exploded, and accusing the government of “State Racism” over its recent anti-immigration policies.

 

Date created : 2010-08-22

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