Judge orders French colonel held for Kosovo leaks

PARIS, Mar 28, 2000 -- (Reuters) A magistrate has ordered a senior French police officer investigated for leaking military information on Kosovo to the press and jailed pending possible trial, judicial sources said on Tuesday.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Michel Mechain, 46, an officer of the gendarmerie paramilitary police, is suspected of leaking confidential army papers showing tension between French commanders in Kosovo and Bernard Kouchner, the U.N. administrator of the Yugoslav province, the sources said.

Mechain denied leaking the documents but an investigation showed he was in contact with journalists, the sources said.

Magistrate Jean-Francois Ricard on Monday ordered Mechain held in the forbidding Sante prison in Paris although the state prosecutor recommended that Mechain stay free and report to police at specific times pending a decision on a trial.

The sources said other confidential documents were found in the officer's possession.

Mechain's lawyer William Bourdon told reporters "jailing someone for an intellectual offence in which neither persons nor property were affected is monstrous." He said he would appeal.

Charges of leaking confidential defense documents could lead to a maximum prison term of seven years.

Mechain was a close adviser on legal affairs to Kouchner until recalled to Paris on orders of Defense Minister Alain Richard, who is in charge of both the army and gendarmerie.

Richard publicly upbraided the generals who criticized Kouchner for formulating opinions about their civilian superior but he also said Mechain had to be recalled because "he showed a certain agitation against his own service".

The case became public after an incident last week when Mechain exchanged blows on a Paris street with pursuers who turned out to be military detectives investigating the leaks.

Original article