PARIS (Reuters) - French lawyer Jacques Verges, nicknamed “Terror’s Advocate” for a high-profile client list that included a former Gestapo chief and Marxist militant Carlos the Jackal, has died of a heart attack aged 88, his publisher said.
Widely regarded as one of France’s most brilliant, if provocative, lawyers, Verges made a name for himself by accepting clients spurned by others as impossible to defend.
The lawyer died on Thursday in the Parisian house where 18th century philosopher Voltaire once lived, according to his publisher Pierre-Guillaume de Roux.
“Like Voltaire, he cultivated the art of permanent revolt and volte-face,” his publisher said in a statement.
Verges was born in Thailand in 1925 to a French father and Vietnamese mother and grew up on the French-ruled Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, where the family moved after his father lost his job as consul because he married a foreigner, something forbidden at the time.
In the 1960s, Verges defended Algerians fighting for independence at a time when an end to French rule in the North African possession was violently opposed by some sections of French society.
As a Communist student leader, Verges befriended Pol Pot, head of the Khmer Rouge which was responsible for the genocide in Cambodia in which 2.2 million people died.
Verges baffled his countrymen by agreeing to defend Klaus Barbie, head of the Gestapo in the city of Lyon who was twice sentenced to death in absentia for war crimes.
When Barbie fled France in 1944, Verges was marching to liberate Paris with de Gaulle’s Free French forces.
“If he (Barbie) had been at the end of the barrel of my gun, I would have shot him,” Verges told Reuters in an interview in 2002. “Now I am simply doing my job as a lawyer.”
Other high profile clients included Lebanese militant Georges Ibrahim Abdallah and former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, and he also gave legal advice to ex-Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.
For some of his critics, Verges’ client list meant his hands were as soiled as those of the people he defended. In 2007, a French documentary about his life dubbed him the “Terror’s Advocate”, a nickname that stuck.
Reporting By John Irish; Additional reporting by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Jon Boyle