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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 'Devil's advocate' pays visit to KRT

'Devil's advocate' pays visit to KRT

French celebrity lawyer Jacques Verges recently ended a five-day stay in Cambodia

in which he toured the facilities of the Khmer Rouge Trials (KRT) and caught up with

an old college classmate and friend of over 50 years - former Democratic Kampuchea

Head of State Khieu Samphan.

"He came to see me from August 23 to August 28," Samphan, 75, told the

Post on September 5 from his home in Phnom Penh. "He just came to see the court

and confirm that he would be defending me. It is natural for him to defend me and

without demanding me to pay."

In his long and vastly controversial career, Verges, 81, has earned a reputation

for defending some of the world's most infamous figures. In 1987 he defended ex-Nazi

war criminal Klaus Barbie, known as "the Butcher of Lyons." Seven years

later he stood at the side of Venezuelan Ilich Ramiriez Sanchez, also known as "Carlos

the Jackal" for his notorious spree of bombing, kidnappings and hijackings.

When it was announced that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was captured, Verges

offered his service within days.

Although it has been reported since 2004 that Verges would defend Samphan, this is

the first meeting between the two since the KRT officially began proceedings earlier

this year. In 2001, Samphan issued a public letter in which he offered an apology

to the Cambodian people, but denied any knowledge of mass executions and claimed

"history should remain history."

As a student activist during the early 1950s at the Sorbonne in Paris, Verges' anti-colonial

activities attracted a clique of Cambodia students that included Samphan, and a young

Saloth Sar, later known as Pol Pot. Verges publicly supported the Democratic Kampuchea

regime before and during its bloody reign that is blamed for the deaths of nearly

two million Cambodians in the late 1970s.

In his article 2004 article The Strange Story of Jacques Verges, author Michael Radu,

went so far as to postulate that after the 1950s "Verges' connection wth the

Khmer Rouge continued: his disappearance from the public eye between 1970 and 1978

has been attributed by some to his joining the Khmer Rouge."

Officials at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) confirmed

that Verges was present at their offices on August 25, but were unwilling to discuss

details of the trip. Attempts to contact Verges were not immediately successful.

"We welcome Jacques Verges' visit to the ECCC, but he was not here on behalf

of a client as a defense attorney," said Reach Sambath, ECCC spokesman. "We

have no comment about his presence because we have no detailed information. We are

not in process of indictment and there is no job for a lawyer to do."

According to an ECCC official, there have been no indictments, no court orders have

been issued and Khieu Samphan has every right to seek private legal council.

"It is not our business to disclose who's visiting the facilities on legal matters,"

said Helen Jarvis, chief of public affairs for the ECCC. "Our doors our open

to provide information to anyone."

Verges' penchant for representing the unpopular gained him the nickname "The

Devil's Advocate." And before France abolished the death penalty in 1981, Verges'

extremely low win rate prompted the French press to refer to him as "Monsieur

Guillotine," given the fate of many of his clients.

Despite his reputation - he penned a book titled The Beauty of Crime and once admitted

to a "passionate interest in evil" - Verges' possible involvement in the

KRT has piqued the interest of observers and ECCC officers.

"I have not worked before with Jacques Verges, but his reputation goes before

him, and in searching for the truth he is a man who never fears to ask any question

of anyone, no matter how difficult the answer may be for many people," wrote

Rupert Skilbeck, ECCC principle defender, in an e-mail.

"If one of the purposes of the ECCC is to find out what happened in Cambodia

and why, then there is no better advocate to assist in that task. Attacking the prosecution

is the job of any good defense advocate. Maître Verges happens to be very good

at it."

Skilbeck, whose job it is to ensure international standards of defense for all the

accused in court, believes that Verges' fame and aptitude will only enhance the ECCC.

"I think that his involvement in the process will raise the profile of the Court,

raise the interest in the trial process both in Cambodia and abroad, and will mean

that all parties will have to be ready to deal with anything," he said. "That

can only be a good thing."

But Milton Osborne, Australian historian and former Australian diplomat who has studied

Cambodia for more than 40 years, said that it is highly likely that Verges will continue

his trademark "attack the prosecution" defense.

"I don't think one can discount part of Verges' wish to be involved in the KRT

as the actions of an individual who is congenitally 'against the government,' who

seizes every opportunity 'pour épater la bourgeoisie'," Osborne said.

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