Doubt cast on minister death

After 32 years the gendarme who found the supposedly drowned body of Work Minister Robert Boulin says he did not drown

THE GENDARME who found the body of Work Minister Robert Boulin in 1979 has cast doubt on the official explanation of suicide.

The 32-year cause célèbre is causing a stir again after Francis Deswarte, then head of the brigade at Poissy, told French newspaper 20 minutes : “It is time to tell the truth,” asserting that, as the first man on the scene, he was sure Mr Boulin had not drowned.

The minister’s body was found in a pool in the forest of Rambouillet. A court eventually dropped investigation into foul play, concluding that he drowned himself. However, his family has always believed he was murdered. Mr Deswarte’s assertions add fuel to their calls for a new look at the case.

He said: “It’s not possible that he drowned. He was nearly on all-fours, with his head out of the water. I am convinced he was trying to crawl towards the bank. Then there were marks on his face, like red scratches.”

At the time, the local gendarmes were immediately taken off the case, which was passed to judicial police; however, Mr Deswarte was later heard as a witness. He said: “The police wanted me to change my version of the events. I was talking about marks on the face and they told me it was because the firefighters dropped the body while getting it out of the water. It’s not true, I was there, they took it out with no difficulty.”

An post mortem examination done at the Institut Médico-Légal de Paris found nothing out of the ordinary and the body was embalmed and tidied up, without the usual authorisation from the family, according to the newspaper Sud Ouest. However four years later, after the inquiry was reopened, a second post mortem found fractures to the face. A judge ordered checks to be made on the lung contents to see if water from the pool was inside them, proving the drowning theory, but samples taken at the time had been destroyed without judicial authority.

For years Mr Boulin’s daughter, Fabienne Boulin-Burgeat, has been seeking for the case to be re-opened, but has been turned down by the Paris public prosecutor. In the light of the new evidence, she is renewing her demand. Meanwhile, the official view is still that Mr Boulin killed himself because he was caught up in a property scandal.