At the time of his death, Borrel was assigned to the Justice Ministry in Djibouti to review and adapt the French civil and penal codes to the Djiboutian justice system. Borrel was an experienced magistrate and begun to have problems with the head of the Justice department he was supposed to serve and who kept him isolated. Bernard Borrel had officially requested a transfer to another African country. Also, a month to the day prior to his death, Bernard Borrel's best friend in France, Judge Charles Clerc-Renaud (40), with whom he had served at his prior posting in Lisieux, France, committed suicide. According to several witnesses, Bernard Borrel was down and depressed the last days prior to his death.
His burned body was found at the bottom of a ravine, 80 kilometers from Djibouti. Initial investigations by French officials who arrived first at the scene, including two policemen assigned to the French Embassy, and later confirmed by the Djiboutian investigation, stated the cause of death was suicide and found no indication of foul play. The day of his death, local police found out, Mr Borrel withdrew the equivalent of 8.000 US dollars from his joined bank account, amount he left to his wife with several letters. The existence of the money and letters were mysteriously concealed for unexplained reasons to Djiboutian policemen by his wife. Bernard Borrel also had personally bought 6 liters of gas at a local gas station that was served in the gas-can that he owned.
Investigation into Borrel's death
His wife Elisabeth, herself a magistrate, demanded an autopsy once the body of her late husband was buried in the outskirts of Toulouse, France. No autopsy had taken place in Djibouti as no medical examiner was available. X-rays made during the first examination of the body that showed signs of asphyxia, disappeared from the military hospital after severe floods. Finally, in February 1996 an autopsy was conducted in Toulouse confirming Bernard Borrel's death was due to fire inhalation and asphyxia.
French criminal police assigned to the case by the first French investigative magistrates in charge of the case, wrote in their report in September 1999 that they found no evidence of murder, but concluded : "except considering the existence of a vast politico-legal conspiracy, implying interferences with witnesses, voluntarily erroneous witness statements, directed medical examinations and a general conspiracy of silence, the assumption of the assassination cannot, to date, being seriously retained."
In January 2000, and a few weeks after police conclusions, a former officer of the presidential guard, Mohammed Saleh Aloumekani, accused the current Djibouti president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, as responsible for the murder; Aloumekhani witnessed a conversation on October 19, (the day the French judge was found dead) in the gardens of the presidential Palace between Ismael Omar Guelleh then chief of security with 5 other men regarding "the elimination of the prying judge".
However, his account came very late after he arrived in Belgium as a political exile and deserter of the Djiboutian army. He first asked asylum in France in August 1998 which was denied, and by extension, Belgium took the same stand. His first account came as he was to be expelled from Belgium and his statement given to Belgian police in October 1999, contradicted what he would declare later to the press, and to the French judge. MSA has been subjected to several investigations by police in his country on racketeering and embezzlement charges. His account has lost today all credibility.
In another development, French authorities in a separate lawsuit filed by the judge' wife in Versailles in 2006 issued arrest warrants against the Djiboutian State Prosecutor and the head of the country's secret services in connection with charges of pressure and corruption against a witness, who happened to be Mohamed Saleh Aloumekhani.
The diplomatic row was deepened when the Parisian court on 10 January 2007 ordered the appearance of Hassan Said, the head of Djibouti's intelligence services. Said had been also accused of forcing an ex-army officer, also an exile in Belgium, to lie to the inquiry looking into the death of Mr Borrel. Since that, the Djiboutian officer had fled the country and was now a witness. He is a friend of Mohamed Saleh, and was also sacked from his job at the presidential Palace, and a candidate to political exile in Belgium.
But recently, Hassan Said and the State Prosecutor of Djibouti, Djama Souleiman, were cleared of any charges and wrongdoing by the Versailles Appeals Court. Implying that Mohamed Saleh is an unreliable witness, and his story "doubtful" and "impossible" as other French magistrates had stated in the past.
According to Ali Abdi Farah, Djibouti Foreign Minister, "Djibouti authorities did not at any way interfere with the process."
French authorities later supported the Foreign Minister's statement, maintaining that Djiboutian authorities had never interfered in the Borrel case. It had been a French investigation, relying on "the excellent cooperation of Djiboutian authorities and justice" in full transparency and cooperation. French investigators had been assured full access to all places, persons and information they needed, even to classified military secrets, the Quai d'Orsay emphasises. Also, the current investigating Judge, Sophie Clément, issued a statement explaining she never experienced any pressure from French or Djiboutian officials.
Shifting from its previous stance, the French Justice Ministry 15 February 2007 issued a statement, stating "with regard to international custody and the law, heads of state have the same immunity as diplomats, and as a result they cannot be required to testify in a French judicial system."
On 29 May 2009 a French court has overturned the jail sentences handed out the two Djibouti officials convicted of halting a probe into Borrel's death.