Taser head under arrest for spying

Boss of French stungun company questioned over spying on Communist leader Olivier Besancenot.

Police have arrested the head of a French company that supplies Taser stun guns to security forces on suspicion of spying on a Trotskyist leader who has campaigned for a ban on the controversial weapons.

Six police officers, a customs official and two private detectives were detained along with Antoine Di Zazzo, head of SMP Technologies which imports and distributes Taser guns in France, officials said.

Paris prosecutors launched a probe in May after a magazine reported that a private detective firm was tailing ex-presidential candidate Olivier Besancenot, the postman leader of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire(LCR).

Besancenot, 34, who is suing for violation of his privacy, said Tuesday that the tactics used against him were "the methods of a police state. I feel like I'm in a bad film."

He said he was due to appear next Monday in a Paris court because Di Zazzo was suing him for libel, "seeking 50,000 euros from me simply because I drew attention to an Amnesty International report" on Taser guns.

Rights group Amnesty says that nearly 300 people have died around the world after being zapped with a Taser and has demanded a moratorium on the weapon's use while a full investigation is conducted.

The darts fired by the Taser pack a 50,000-volt punch that can paralyse targets from 10 metres away.

A United Nations committee said last year that use of the gun constitutes "a form of torture" that can result in death.

Di Zazzo, whose company has supplied Tasers to the French army, police and gendarmerie since 2004, has adamantly denied that the guns can be lethal.

His lawyer on Tuesday denied Di Zazzo had spied on Besancenot, saying he "had not the least interest in ordering a report on Mr Besancenot or anyone else."

Lawyer Catherine Hennequin noted that the arrests came at "a convenient time just days ahead of Besancenot's appearance in court for libel."

According to L'Express magazine, detectives tailed Besancenot and his partner between October 2007 and January 2008 from outside their Paris apartment, photographed them and gained access to their bank details.

The magazine said the alleged surveillance operation could not have been carried out without the help of civil servants with access to interior ministry files.

Sources close to the enquiry said that the police and customs officials arrested were being held on suspicion that they had abused their authority and consulted official files on Besancenot and his partner.

Besancenot is currently winding up his LCR party to found a Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste in January, which will seek to attract members of the Parti Communiste, environmentalists, disaffected Socialists and anti-globalisation activists.

In last year's presidential election he won 4% of the vote.

Photo:Étienne André