Investigation into a state scandal, new feature film by Thierry de Peretti, is it based on a true story? We decrypt!
Investigating a State Scandal, a new film by Thierry de Peretti, takes us to October 2015. French customs seize seven tonnes of cannabis in the heart of the capital. The same day, a former narcotics infiltrator, Hubert Antoine, contacted Stéphane Vilner, a young journalist at Liberation.
He claims to be able to demonstrate the existence of state trafficking led by Jacques Billard, a high-ranking French police officer. At first suspicious, Stéphane ends up plunging into an investigation that will lead him to the darkest corners of the Republic.
FROM BOOK TO FILM
Carried by two inhabited actors, Roschdy Zem and Pio Marmaï, Enquête sur un scandale d’Etat is based on the book by journalist Emmanuel Fansten, The Infiltrator. Anchored in reality, this breathless tale plunges us into the heart of a well-oiled machinery where corruption, drug trafficking, espionage and petty shenanigans mingle up to the highest peak of the state.
The scandal in question, brought to light by Fansten, is the affair of François Thierry, former head of the Interministerial Service for Technical Assistance (SIAT). In the film, Thierry is renamed Jacques Billard; it is Vincent Lindon who lends him his features.
In 2015, this former commissioner is suspected of having let several tens of tons of cannabis into France with the complicity of one of the biggest European traffickers, Sofiane Hambli, “the baron of hash.” (hired by Thierry himself). He is considered one of the biggest French drug traffickers of the last twenty years.
ADAPTING A THUNDERING SCANDAL
To denounce the maneuvers of François Thierry, Fansten’s book retraces the journey of narcotics infiltrator Hubert Avoine (Roschdy Zem in the film), from trade unionism to Mexican cartels via the French Narcotics Office. He recounts what he says he participated in and which he thinks is a dangerous drift in the fight against drug trafficking in France. The book captivated Thierry de Peretti but he did not see himself working on this adaptation, too far from him and from his first territory of cinema which is Corsica.
“But when I met Hubert Avoine and Emmanuel Fansten, what I was able to see of their relationship immediately pleased and intrigued me. I said to myself that there was something there to make a film and tell the unprecedented relationship between a journalist and his source, their common obsession for this investigation, their level of language, the extreme theatricality of their uninterrupted, hypnotic and taxing dialogue. It was obvious that they were saying something about the world and this time which ends”explains the director.
A TROUGH INVESTIGATION
For Emmanuel Fansten, seeing his journalistic work adapted to the cinema was magical. “Quite quickly, it became clear that Thierry de Peretti wanted less to adapt the content of the book than to draw inspiration from the whole genesis of this work, namely, my encounters, the investigation itself and the link that I spoke with my source, Hubert Avoine”he says.
The latter has a kind of mysterious aura, between James Bond and Jacques Mesrine. To stay as close to reality as possible in his screenplay, Thierry de Peretti spent a lot of time with Hubert Avoine and Emmanuel Fansten before embarking on writing, until Hubert Avoine’s death in 2018. The two men were generous and invested enough to enlighten the director, to accept him among them, while they were still, at that time, in the middle of their investigation.
“They continued to meet people related to the case, to exchange daily, to reflect… I was like an intern who was allowed access to incredible secrets. This is how the desire for fiction was born. And then , meeting Emmanuel Fansten, who is a journalist for a major daily newspaper, young, devoted body and soul to his work, connected to a thousand and one realities of today’s Paris, it responded to my desire to shoot a film related to this city”reveals the filmmaker.
COPS AND ROBBERS ?
Hubert Avoine alone opened dozens of windows on dozens of worlds, according to journalist Emmanuel Fansten. “The way he came into my life, his way of speaking, of being, of dressing, his strangeness, his accent, everything made him very special to me. The account he gave of his experience impressed, precisely because he was neither a policeman nor a trafficker. He appeared to me as a witness, a smuggler, a messenger all at the same time.”
The journalist’s difficulty in defining Avoine’s status made him both elusive and fascinating. “He was nothing like the thug who had been turned over by the cops, while having in certain aspects the manners of a thug. But he was above all very cultured, he spoke clearly, he wore good looks.
The information he brought took me on a journey from cartel South America to post-Franco Spain, to the south of France, to the Dominican Republic. This world tour also covered several eras and it is as if it catalyzed very different issues on its own”relates Emmanuel Fansten.
AN UNPRECEDENTED SCANDAL
The François Thierry / Sofiane Hambli affair created a resounding scandal in the mid-2010s. For years, the biggest importer of cannabis in France would have been the state itself. This controversy has called into question the entire strategy of the narcotics brigade in France, whose unfathomable methods have been singled out.
This was all the more dishonoring for the narcotics as the Minister of the Interior at the time, Claude Guéant, strutted around with François Thierry, gargling for having seized cocaine loaves and bales of cannabis resin.
After the scandal broke out in 2015 and Thierry’s ousting, the reputation of OCRTIS (Central Office for the Suppression of Illicit Drug Trafficking) took quite a beating. It was replaced by the Anti-Narcotics Office (Ofast) in 2019.
In February 2022, François Thierry finally received a reprimand. He had been summoned before a disciplinary council on December 16. However, he is still under a double judicial investigation in Bordeaux and Lyon.
However, according to France Inter, “The investigation by the General Inspectorate of the National Police did not establish the slightest trace of corruption, the slightest indication of any financial interest, insists a source familiar with the matter.”
“On the other hand, thanks to his scheme, François Thierry brought down nearly 250 drug distribution circuits in France. There was an impressive number of dealers’ arrests”, revealed the same source. Therein lies the whole paradox of this case.
At the time, the newspaper Liberation had denounced in a “state traffic”. The high authorities of the judicial police and the successive interior ministers had, according to the newspaper, encouraged the securing of the passage of tens of tons of drugs between Morocco, Spain and France.
They would thus have ensured that these cargoes were not intercepted before their delivery. These opaque methods made it possible to satisfy the statistics of seizures and arrests of traffickers, police leaders, politicians and the media, without really solving the drug problem.
Today, this scandal has ultimately had little impact, until Thierry de Peretti seizes it to bring it to the screen. His film has been in theaters since February 9.
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