Tarnac: Witness X and his rigged testimony

The police put pressure on Jean-Hugues Bourgeois and backdated the surveillance report of his interview so as to condemn Julien Coupat's group.

A witness leaves the shadows. And this event is surely the most important new development in the investigation into the sabotage of the high-speed train lines that took place at the beginning of November 2008. While the Anti-Terrorist Police (SDAT) executed a new arrest in Tarnac yesterday,[1] the lawyers for the Tarnac Nine prepared for an examination of Jean-Hugues Bourgeois, a young farmer identified by "X" in the police's surveillance report for 14 November 2008. "It is now established," they wrote, "that Mr Bourgeois and witness #42 are one and the same person."

Without saying anything further, Bourgeois confirmed it to Liberation. His deposition as "X" accused the Tarnac group of having had a project to "overthrow the State," to "have little regard for human life," and -- in the case of Julien Coupat -- to envision "having to kill." Supporting the idea of a terrorist aim, these allegations were brought up again in the SDAT's report and the District Attorney's search warrants.

But on 11 November [2009], there was a new development. A TF1 [television] team interviewed Witness #42 on a wet country road, [his face] blurred, on a hidden camera. He declared having "no idea about anonymous testimony," received on 14 November 2008 by SDAT officers. One of the functionaries explained to him that there was "a pile of information, intercepted mail," that "wasn't exploitable in a legal procedure," and that were "in need of a signature." Afterwards, the police added extracts from their dossiers to this witness's deposition.

In shock. According to "the remarks of the anonymous witness," "the entirety of his testimony, taken at 9 am on 14 November 2008, did not reflect his declarations," the lawyers for the defense informed Judge Thierry Fragnoli in a letter. Witness X, "now identified," has indicated that he "signed his deposition without reading it" and "participated in this deception under police pressure," they claimed.

At the time, Bourgeois's farm was the victim of attacks, and he was in contact with the police of Riom. On 12 November 2008, the warrant officer in charge of the case contacted him, while the surveillance of the people questioned in Tarnac was in course. The officer knew that Bourgeois including them among his friends and regularly saw them. The officer brought him to the Riom police station at around 8 am on 13 November. At the office, SDAT officers arrived specially from Paris awaited him. His interview lasted nine hours. According to someone close to Bourgeois, it was an ordeal. He came home in shock. As if he'd been the "victim of an attack."

Beyond the possibility that the Tarnac group could threaten human life, the testimony of Witness #42 contained few precise facts. Those close to Julien Coupat "experimented with their territorial logic." "They presented themselves as the most apt to destroy the world and reconstruct it anew." One learned in Autumn 2007 that the group would be "completely closed upon itself." The witness, who was among them a month earlier, saw no preparations for insurrection.

Manipulation. A factual incoherence mars the deposition of #42. The interview is dated 14 November. And the authorization from the judge for the necessary detention of "X" was delivered at 6:58 pm on 13 November. But Bourgeois was interviewed at 8 am on the 13th. The magistrate, in charge of the harassment campaign, came to see him. Moreover, Bourgeois was brought to Tarnac the next day. Two residents recall his visit. "Mr Bourgeois could not be in Tarnac at the same time that he was supposedly in the offices of the police's intelligence division," the lawyers for the defense pointed out. They demand the audition of these two SDAT functionaries, co-signatories to the testimony, so as to "cast light on the alteration of the date of the interview." "The dossier is full of serious indications of manipulation," says Mr William Bourdon, one of the attorneys. "Especially this testimony, which was the cornerstone of the accusation."

Another contradictory detail has been discovered. In December 2008, officers from the SDAT once again contacted the farmer and asked him to bear witness again, but this time under his real name. A curious, inexplicable step. Was it taken to cover the tracks that led to the witness? On 11 December, a month after his testimony as X, Bourgeois was re-interviewed under his real name.

This time, he assured the SDAT that he had "never" been informed of "violent projects targeting the State" by the residents of Tarnac. On the contrary, he shared with them "a libertarian ideal that is not at all reprehensible." He declares, "I advised them about their farm animals and harvests." He says that Julien Coupat and a friend came twice to see his methods. Bourgeois knew no more than that about Coupat. "It is hard for me to believe that he is the one whom the authorities have presented as a terrorist," he says. In his second interview, Bourgeois "said nothing that would lead anyone to suppose that a terrorist project was underway, and formally contradicted the so-called revelations made under the cover of anonymity," the lawyers declared.

"I was at the end of my rope."

The farmer who anonymously testified against Coupat was pressured, a victim of harassment.

"There are moments when one is vulnerable, and there are people who are paid to recognize those moments," Jean-Hugues Bourgeois confided to a friend. The 30-year-old farmer, a resident of Saint-Gervais-d'Auvergne (Puy-de-Dome), had lived with threats for six months before testifying in the Tarnac Affair. His horses were killed, his barns burned and grape-growers were suspected of wanting to drive him off his land. In June, he himself was questioned for "denouncing imaginary deeds" on the basis of a handwriting analysis. "There is no objective fact that allows anyone to say that he himself had killed his horses, burned his barns and his hay," insists his lawyer, Mr Jean-Louis Borie.

Originally from the High Alps, Jean-Hugues Bourgeois came to the Combrailles in 2006. It was humid terrain, surrounded by woods. He built a cottage and a greenhouse, and put up a caravan and a procession. He hollowed out a pond. Friends came from all over. "In the evenings, they would remake the world here," remembers Michel Message, a farmer from near-by. "Since the land wasn't good for much, I proposed to give him half of my property." An extreme Left militant as an adolescent, Bourgeois was in contact with autonomes who participated in the anti-G8 demonstrations in Genoa and Geneva. His sister belonged to the Longo Mai network of cooperatives and introduced him to organic agriculture. He settled down and started a horse farm, constructed a little cheese-making operation, and held a position at the CIMADE[2] in Clermont-Ferrand.

Pistol. In the village of Tarnac and the Goutailloux farm, one hundred kilometers away, he discovers among them a friend, formerly of Longo Mai, who is living there. Bourgeois sells the friend horses and loans him a goat.

On 31 March 2008, anonymous people attacked his horse stalls during the night. In the enclosure that he himself built, ten horses are killed by pistol shots. [Michel] Message, his friend, cursed the judge who suspected Bourgeois of being the perpetrator of these crimes: "A judge who tells lies such as this: I would put him into a herd and try to kill just one, [then] he would see how things go!"

For the press, Bourgeois became "the harassed organic farmer." An association was formed. The Confederation of Peasants supported it. But the bad blows continued. "The people from around here never managed to understand that one could help a young person," Michel Message explained. "They would say: 'If Message doesn't inherit the land, it is ours!"

Iron bars were planted in the fields to puncture the wheels or break the harvesters. An anonymous letter threatened to rape his 8-year-old daughter. Two fires destroyed his reserves of organic hay. At the beginning of October, fire ravaged Message's barn: 35 tons of hay and 10 tons of grain belonging to Bourgeois went up in smoke. "Mr Bourgeois was crushed," said a neighbor. In shock, he decided to leave for Britain in December 2008. "I told him that, if he remained in the country, one would have found him at the end of a rope," Message confided.

DNA. In the spring, when a militant from the Parisian National Front was implicated by a trace of DNA on one of the threatening letters, Bourgeois' handwriting was analyzed. "The expert believed that the anonymous letter in the form of a coffin had probably been writing by you," said the judge at Riom, Bruno Meral, who admitted that the pen used "not allow a complete comparative examination." Bourgeois rebelled, and complained about the court's level of expertise. The judge indicted him. "Nothing prevented you from going to the barn and lighting it on fire yourself," he declared. Pushing the investigation forward, the judge took interest in Bourgeois' scholarly dossier. "At the age of 14, you declared that you'd made small explosives and set small fires," the judge remarked. "You later declared you wanted to be a chemist or terrorist . . ." Bourgeois protested: "I was only 14!" The investigation was dead.

[1] Translator's note: see statement from the 11 November Support Committee concerning the arrest that took place the previous day.

[2] Translator's note: an ecumenical service that helps foreign immigrants.

(Written by Karl Laske and published in Liberation, 25 November 2009. Translated by NOT BORED! on 26 November 2009.)

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