French prosecutor drops charges for publishing of classified document

Nucleonics Week - 27 August 2009

The public prosecutor in Paris has decided not to press charges against a prominent French anti-nuclear activist, Stephane Lhomme, who had been under investigation since 2006 for breach of national security in connection with publication of a classified document acknowledging weaknesses in the EPR reactor design's ability to withstand the crash of a commercial jetliner.

The organization for which Lhomme is spokesman, Sortir du Nucleaire, attributed the closing of the case to a petition in his favor signed by 30,000 people, several of them wellknown political figures, intellectuals, writers and artists, and sent to the prosecutor's office this spring.

The deputy prosecutor in the anti-terrorist section of the Paris County Court informed Lhomme's lawyer, Benoist Busson, in a letter dated June 30 that the procedure against the activist had been abandoned. Sortir du Nucleaire announced the news August 20. Lhomme, in an e-mail response to a question from Platts, said the delay was due to the fact that Busson had been on vacation when the letter arrived at his office.

In the letter, which SdN included with its announcement, the deputy prosecutor, Alexandre Plantevin, told Busson that Lhomme must in the future "respect the legal dispositions concerning protection of classified documents." Plantevin noted that French law provides for criminal charges against those who - "like your client" - possess classified documents without authorization.

Lhomme revealed in 2006 that he was in possession of an internal Electricite de France document, stamped "defense confidential," that acknowledged weaknesses in the EPR's resistance to an aircraft crash, a major issue after the terrorist attacks with airplanes in the US on September 11, 2001. The revelation came during public inquiry and licensing proceedings for EDF's first EPR unit, Flamanville-3.

Lhomme was charged with endangering national security by revealing the contents of a classified document. SdN and other anti-nuclear groups, in a solidarity move, posted the document on their web sites. EDF has said that the 2003 document is obsolete because the design of the EPR - which predated the 2001 terrorist attacks - has been modified to meet new aircraft-crash requirements.

Asked what basis SdN had for concluding that the publicly voiced support was the reason for the case closure, Lhomme said that conclusion was "of course purely subjective." But he said the decision was "obviously political and dictated by the fear of the authorities to make me into a sort of hero supported by tens of thousands of people."

In an interview August 25, Lhomme said he was "almost disappointed that it ended so easily." Had the case gone to court, SdN would have had another opportunity to call attention to the defense-secret document and ask for a public response from EDF, he said.

He said that neither Busson nor SdN had received the full justification backing up the prosecutor's decision, which is required under French procedure. He said that as defendant, he should in principle have access to the whole dossier in the case and that Busson was preparing to formally request the prosecutor's office to send the complete justification for its decision. Officials with the Paris court could not be reached for comment on the decision.

Lhomme had been detained twice by French security police for questioning in the affair, but neither he nor his lawyer had been informed of a decision until the June 30 letter. If tried and convicted, he would have faced a fiveyear prison sentence. Last week, he said a political decision is the only explanation for the prosecutor having closed the case.

"Otherwise, it's inexplicable that the judge says, 'what you did is very serious ... but I won't press charges against you.'" In its statement, SdN said the decision showed that "the justice system tolerates publication of a defense-secret document." Meanwhile, SdN and Lhomme await permission to access documents in another, potentially related case under investigation by a French judge. Earlier this year, they filed a complaint against EDF and the national investigation bureau DCRI, charging that the utility and DCRI had spied on Lhomme in an attempt to learn who had leaked the defense-secret document.

The case is related to a separate investigation of alleged spying by EDF on officials of Greenpeace France in an effort to protect its nuclear installations. Lhomme said the investigative judge in that case had not been assigned his case in addition. In order to push forward with the SdN complaint, he said, either the two cases must be melded or SdN must intervene in the other case as an affected party.

"We want to see an inquiry" into the EDF "espionage" cases, notably that involving SdN, he said. Electricite de France suspended two senior nuclear security managers from their duties April 10 in connection with charges of involvement in illegal surveillance of SdN and Greenpeace France (NW, 16 April, 5). The two men are suspected by an investigative judge of having contracted with a specialized firm to hack into the computer system of a former Greenpeace campaigner.

EDF also has acknowledged that its internal investigation revealed an irregular contract with a Swiss firm, Securewyse, for surveillance of Sortir du Nucleaire and Lhomme. EDF said the contract did not conform to its internal ethics code because it did not explicitly ban hacking into computers or using other illegal means of investigation.

 

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Page Updated 28-Aug-2009