Robert Boulin: Second Investigating Judge appointed

Robert Boulin

Robert Boulin

One Investigating Judge was already appointed to the case of Robert Boulin, who was Minister of labor under Valéry Giscard d’Estain.

The request

Boulin was found dead in 1979 under suspicious circumstances. Boulin’s daughter Fabienne has long pressed for a second investigating judge to be appointed to investigate her father’s death. The request for a second investigating judge was made last year in November. Her arguments were to speed up the process as time is running out. Witnesses pass away, evidence deteriorates, etc.

Last January 24, a second Investigating Judge was added.

The Case

Robert Boulin (July 20, 1920 – Oct 30, 1979) was a French politician who served as Minister of Labor in the French Cabinet from Valéry Giscard d’Estain and was at the center of a major real-estate scandal that ended only because he died under mysterious circumstances.

At the time of his death he was the longest-serving minister in post-revolution French history; only Louis XIV’s Colbert served longer.

On Oct 29, 1979 Boulin disappeared. He was found the next day under circumstances that hint at suicide: in a pond in the forest of Rambouillet where he loved to ride horses, an empty barbiturates container was next to his car, and inside that car messages for family, friends, and colleagues. However, if you read what the first officer on the scene says, it is homicide.

According to the official verdict, Boulin drowned after taking barbiturates. Francis Deswarte said he was the first to see the body in the pool in the forest of Rambouillet, on the morning of Oct 30, 1979. He was called in to look for a senior citizen who might have taken his own life. I quote from the BBC:

After spotting a car behind a wood pile, he saw the body in nearby water, said to have been 50cm (19in) deep. He was kneeling, with his head out of the water, looking towards the car,” said Mr Deswarte.

Asked about the official verdict of death by drowning, he replied: “Robert Boulin did not drown. It is not possible. He was virtually on all fours, his head out of the water. I am convinced that he was trying to crawl to the bank. And then, he had marks on his face like red scratches.” Deswarte said he was taken off the case within 30 minutes.

Family pressure

On June 21, 2007 right after Jacques Chirac handed over power to Nicolas Sarkozy, the Paris Public Prosecutor met with Boulin’s daughter, Fabienne Burgeat, and announced that he was considering re-opening the investigation as “new evidence” had come to light. New questions were raised indeed but the case remained labelled a suicide.

The French Legal System

Just a short overview here: France has an inquisitorial criminal justice system as opposed to an adversarial system. The difference is that in an adversarial system, two opposing parties (the prosecution representing the state and the defense representing the defendant) each gather their evidence, and present that evidence together with their arguments before a court. Depending on the country, either a judge or a jury then decides the verdict. In an inquisitorial system, the court is actively involved in fact-finding and taking charge of the criminal investigations.

If a case is complex or, involves a sentence of ten years or more or, the case is of national importance, a prosecutor can ask that an Investigating Judge (juge d’instruction) leads the investigation. The advantage is that an Investigating Judge has very broad powers and they are independent from the prosecutor’s office.

Despite what you see on TV and in the movies, few cases are led by an Investigating Judge. The majority of criminal cases are examined by local law enforcement (gendarmerie) under the authority of the prosecutor’s Office (procureurs).

If not enough evidence is found, the Investigative Judge closes the case. A case can be reopened when new evidence comes to light however, it must stay adhere to the statute of limitations.

Boulin

From this article I learned that the two Investigating Judges are Nadège Pequignot and Denis Couhé. Apparently, they spoke on Feb 22, 2019 to Dr. Daniel Jault. Jault was the medical examiner who performed one of Boulin’s autopsies. He has stated publicly before that he “never thought it was a suicide.”

Partial Timeline

In 1979, no medical analysis of the lungs was conducted despite the fact that his cause of death was suicide by drowning. The body was “embalmed” without family consent.

In Nov 1983, Robert Boulin’s body was exhumed.

In Jan 1984, a second autopsy showed fractures in his face.

In 1987, Judge Corneloup asked for an autopsy of the lungs. However, the organs could not be found. They were supposed to be in jars and buried. The family filed a complaint for destruction of evidence in April 1988.

In Sep 1991, the investigation for intentional homicide was closed.

More information about the Robert Boulin case will be posted as it becomes available.

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Hat tip to my readers in France who alerted me to this case update!