In a show of disrespect for the family of Ilan Halimi, victim of the most atrocious anti-Semitic crime committed in France since World War II, the court announced the verdict after 10 PM on Friday night—the Sabbath—on the eve of the July 14th holiday weekend. Emma, the young lady who lured 23 year-old Halimi into the cruel trap was sentenced to nine years in prison. Youssouf Fofana, the “Brain of the Barbarians,” who admits he finished off his Jewish victim, after 24 days of torture, stabbing him five times and setting him aflame, gets “life” in prison (with a possibility of parole after 22 years). The other 25 accomplices or accessories were given jail terms ranging from acquittal to 18 years. The motive of anti-Semitism was retained for some of the defendants, but did not incur the corresponding ten-year increase in jail terms. Two men who played a key role in the Halimi kidnapping are on the loose because the police couldn’t persuade any of the defendants to cough up their names.
The two-month trial was held behind closed doors in juvenile court because two of the defendants were just under 18 when the crime was committed. Ruth Halimi, the victim’s mother, pleaded in vain for an open hearing. In January 2006 she had vainly entreated investigators to recognize the anti-Semitic motive of her son’s jailers. For 24 days the police followed false trails, overlooked clues, missed chances to nab the mastermind, and bungled negotiations for unrealistic ransom demands that were little more than a pretext for the torture inflicted on Ilan Halimi. The photo sent to the family the day after his disappearance tells it all: Ilan’s face is totally plastered with thick silver duct tape. His eyes and mouth are sealed shut, leaving a small hole for his broken nose.
He was kept naked--first in an unheated apartment, then in a boiler room--fed liquids through a straw, forced to eliminate in a plastic bag, beaten, kicked, pummeled… No one will ever know the extent of his ordeal. Playing on the nuances of French law that supposedly establishes the exact degree of participation of each individual in a collective crime, defense lawyers portrayed their clients as lost sheep haplessly involved in a seemingly normal short-term business enterprise…even when it became obvious that the whole thing was bungled and only the torture was real.
Late Friday afternoon, the press, alerted by rumors that the verdict would be pronounced before nightfall. We stood for hours in the halls of the Palais de Justice before being admitted into the antiquated courtroom. The atmosphere was weirdly festive, as defense lawyers chatted with each other and fussed over their clients, half-hidden from our view behind a glassed-in cubicle. It was after 10 PM when the presiding judge finally announced—in a barely audible voice-- prison terms for the 27 defendants, from life to 18 years, to 15, 13, 11 and by even increments all the way to six months suspended sentence and, for two of them, acquittal. Most prisoners are released in France after serving half their terms.
The whole thing has been hushed up and tucked away under front page stories about holiday traffic jams and the Tour de France bicycle race. Last week Maître Francis Szpiner, representing the Halimi family, expressed his misgivings about the indulgent recommendations to the jury of the Avocat Général—a sort of voice of the people and the Bench. Interviewed Friday night after the lenient verdict was announced, Szpiner called upon the Minister of Justice to appeal (the plaintiffs do not have the right to appeal). Several Jewish organizations have called for a gathering Monday night in front of the Justice Ministry at Place Vendôme…at the same place where enraged Islamists shouting “Death to Israel, Death to the Jews” made a show of force in January.