Paul Touvier, one of France's most notorious Nazi collaborators during World War II, was captured Wednesday after spending decades in hiding. He faces charges of crimes against humanity.
Touvier was arrested at a fundamentalist Catholic priory in the southern city of Nice. He faces trial for crimes he allegedly committed while leading the pro-Nazi French militia in Lyon, where he worked closely with German Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie, who was known to the French Resistance as the "butcher of Lyon."
Touvier, 74, was flown to Paris Wednesday for questioning before being formally charged. He was then transferred to a prison in Fresnes, south of the capital.
The Agence France-Presse news agency, quoting neighbors who witnessed the arrest, said Touvier was taken into custody at St. Francis Priory, which is run by followers of excommunicated Archbishop Marcel Lefevbre, who is headquartered in Switzerland. The Vatican expelled the right-wing fundamentalist cleric last year after a long battle over church doctrine.
It was not known how long Touvier has been staying there or how he was found out.
"We see this with great satisfaction," said Beate Klarsfeld, France's best-known Nazi hunter. "It's a great bravo for French justice." Klarsfeld was instrumental in tracking down Barbie, who in 1987 was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity.
Also applauding Touvier's arrest, Lyon Mayor Michel Noir said the collaborator "formed along with Klaus Barbie an infernal duo for the Lyon Resistance."
Touvier, who was Lyon intelligence chief for the collaborationist Vichy regime in occupied France, was first arrested when the country was liberated in 1944 but escaped. He was later convicted twice in absentia and sentenced to death for executing and torturing members of the Resistance and persecuting Jews during the war.
He managed to stay hidden until the sentences against him expired in 1967 under a 20-year statute of limitations. In 1971, President Georges Pompidou quietly pardoned Touvier, effectively canceling other penalties.
But the outcry was so great that Touvier went back into hiding. And in 1981, he was charged with crimes against humanity, to which the statute of limitations does not apply in France.
In a legal tactic similar to that used against Barbie, the charges were based on crimes other than those cited in earlier trials, opening the way for new proceedings.
Touvier's protection during the early postwar period by senior members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy has been extensively documented.
Historian Henri Amouroux said a trial would bring out "the role the church played . . . (it) will reawaken many painful moments from the war."
For example, it was Msgr. Charles Duquaire, private secretary to the archbishop of Lyon during the Nazi occupation, who urged Pompidou to pardon Touvier.
One account, by the Lyon journalist and historian Pierre Merindol, said Duquaire was fulfilling a pledge in return for Touvier securing the release of 42 captured partisans about to be shot by the Germans in retaliation for an act of sabotage by the Resistance.
When asked to comment, Cardinal Albert Decourtray, current archbishop of Lyon, said he hopes "the respect for others will prevail over lies and settling of accounts."
Father Jean-Michel Di Falco, a spokesman for French bishops, stressed that the priory where Touvier was arrested is outside the authority of the bishop of Nice.
In an apparent attempt to keep police off his track, a notice of Touvier's death was published in Switzerland in 1984. Rumors nevertheless circulated widely that he was being sheltered in monasteries in Switzerland, Italy or France.
Written accounts suggest Touvier could expose prominent Frenchmen as collaborators. Similar fears were expressed before Barbie's trial, but no revelations were made.
The new arrest warrant against Touvier lists six charges, including the killing of Victor Basch, president of France's League for Human Rights. Investigators determined that when Basch, 81, and his wife, were arrested by Touvier's militia in January, 1944, they were "judged too old to be deported and they were killed on the spot."
Touvier's brother Andre, 61, said in an interview he was surprised by the arrest because he had been "99%" convinced his brother was dead.