Philip Delves-Broughton

Elf warning

Philip Delves Broughton on the threats against Eva Joly, the judge investigating the French oil giant

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During the past ten years, 34 out of the 128 Cabinet ministers to have served in the French government have been indicted, mostly for financial crimes. President Chirac himself has had to rig up an immunity law to protect him from charges that he treated his previous job, as mayor of Paris, as a cash-till to enrich himself, his party and his supporters. Among Western leaders, only Silvio Berlusconi has a murkier legal past.

So when a French judge decides to talk about corruption, it should be no surprise that she is pilloried by Chirac’s heavies in the establishment. Eva Joly, if you believe the macho Chirac loyalists, is nothing but a vain old widow who is ready to bend the truth and takes bribes to promote herself. According to her, ‘France is a country of networks which don’t like to be challenged.’

At the beginning of this month, bookshops were due to receive copies of her book Is This the World We Want to Live in? in which she elaborates her theory that France is irremediably crooked. But the night before, under pressure from the justice department, a Paris court blocked publication. The court said that the book cannot be released until the end of the trial of former executives at the Elf oil company, which is being investigated by Joly. The verdict will be later this year.

For many years Joly was just a humdrum investigating magistrate, poking around in the financial scandals that come and go in France like migrating birds. Her first famous scalp was that of Bernard Tapie, a Marseilles financier promoted by Fran