Daniel Soulez Larivière, lawyer for Grande Paroisse (a subsidiary of Total) and the former director of the factory, publishes this Thursday, September 15 a book about the explosion trial, Anatomy of a judicial fiasco. Publication while the industrialist and Serge Biechlin were definitively condemned and found guilty of the explosion in 2019. The drama had claimed the lives of 31 people on September 21, 2001. The ex-director was sentenced to 15 months in prison suspended sentence for “manslaughter”.
Maître Soulez Larivière denounces a judicial error. He was the morning guest of France Blue Occitanie this Thursday morning.
Why and for whom are you writing this book which denounces, we will talk about it, a miscarriage of justice in the AZF trial?
Because it’s my 15th book and I’ve written, spent my entire professional life writing about legal issues. There, it turns out that it is the biggest disaster that has occurred in France since the war. So a case that lasted 20 years, which occupied the minds of the victims, the defendants and then the lawyers. And so I said to myself at the end of all that, after thinking about it and taking three years to do it, that it was desirable. My first and my first business started with a book that was written by Gilles Perrault more than 50 years ago. It was called The Error. And here, now, I probably end my career with a book that concerns another error, in my opinion, which is this one.
There have been three trials. Grande Paroisse, as well as the former director of the site, Serge Biechlin, whom you defended, was found guilty of manslaughter and given a fifteen-month suspended prison sentence. Why once again call into question the credibility and seriousness of justice?
Why challenge the court’s acquittal? Me, that’s more the question I’m asking. In this case, there is no evidence. That’s what I said one day to everyone’s surprise. This is a file in which there is evidence of nothing at all. And that was the position of the defense from the beginning after having analyzed things well and it was finally that of the court which in a democracy cannot convict without proof. And he had a very nice recital that’s written like that, that I’ve never seen written anywhere. Criminal law is a law that is strictly applied and this is one of the pillars of democracy. I agree, but disagree with what happened afterwards.
So you still don’t recognize the industrial accident?
It’s not a matter of knowing or not knowing. There is no evidence. So I can’t say that’s it. The court had a very nice formula that was also very simple. He said: it is possible that it was an attack but there is no proof. And it’s likely to be an accident. But there is no evidence either.
There have been convictions. And Patrick Pouyanné, the CEO of Total Energy, himself admitted in an interview a few months ago that he acknowledged the responsibility of his company.
Yes, but that’s something else. He of course acknowledged the right. That is to say that the old article 1384 of the Civil Code which has changed number, consists in saying: any act of man which causes damage to others obliges the one by whose fault it happened to repair it. So there, in this case, there is a factory that belongs to Grande Paroisse, which itself is a subsidiary of Total. There is an accident. The doing of things is automatic. It is not a question of responsibility.
But you speak in your book of very bad functioning, of lousy expertise. On what exactly do you think the investigation was botched?
I think it’s because, initially, there was a bad orientation. Instead of letting people work, we followed a bit of legitimate political encouragement. Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin were not in favor of anything. They said simply, Jospin very precisely: it’s an accident or maybe something else.
And the district attorney said three days later that there was a 90% chance the explosion was an accident.
That’s 90, 99%. And that’s what put the investigation on the ground, in my opinion, because it immediately directed it towards a goal. And investigations are not made to find goals, to achieve goals. It is done to achieve a goal which is that of truth. And when there isn’t, there isn’t.
So you remain convinced that the terrorist track was dismissed much too quickly?
Clearly, this is not necessarily the right track. As the court said, it is possible. She was dismissed on October 15. It was finished. And then, if you like, when we do, when we search the home of someone who is a suspect, perhaps wrongly, when we search his home seven days after the disaster, we must not make fun of the world , it is useless. Of course, we found nothing at all. We didn’t investigate these fadettes, we didn’t investigate the long phone call he made the day before. We didn’t do the job.
I am trying to understand the will in your writing. Did your client, Serge Biechlin, the former director of the site who was found guilty, encourage you to write this book?
No, nobody encouraged me to do this book. It was I who proposed it to Serge Biechlin who said he was in complete agreement. So.
Are you not afraid that this book will rekindle the pain of the victims and their loved ones?
I don’t think so, because what I saw were victims in this case, many victims since we had 31 dead and nearly 3,000 injured. What I noticed is that these people were very dignified. And when the acquittal was pronounced in court, no one flinched. No one has commented.
But today I am talking about your book. Pauline Miranda of the Association of September 21 victims says that it is painful each time to hear the disputed court decision. Now, is that what you do in this book?
Me, I do my job and I write what I have to write. The others think what they want. But in any case, the bulk of the victims that I have been able to meet physically have never shown me anything other than perfect dignity and perfect respect which is reciprocal.
So you consider, and this will be the final word, that you are serving society with this book rather than once again stirring up trouble in public opinion?
No. I’m simply explaining something important and I’m explaining a matter that is very important, the biggest industrial disaster since the war. And I say that we cannot leave things as they are on a reasoning which was, for example, that of the Court of Appeal. There was an explosion, it needed chlorine. Well, we haven’t found any. We could stop there. Yes, but we couldn’t find any. If we couldn’t find any, it means there could be some. And we will show you that there were. These are arguments that are unacceptable.