The Seznec Affair was a controversial French court case of 1923-1924.
Joseph Marie Guillaume Seznec, born in Plomodiern in Finistère in 1878 and the head of a sawmill at Morlaix, was found guilty of false promise and of the murder of the wood merchant Pierre Quéméneur, conseiller général of Finistère. Among other things, Quéméneur had strangely disappeared on the night of 25/26 May 1923 during a business trip from Brittany to Paris with Seznec, a trip linked (according to Seznec) to the sale of stocks of cars (left behind in France after the First World War by the American army) to the Soviet Union. Though many other possibilities were advanced as to the disappearance and despite the body never being recovered, it was decided only to pursue the murder hypothesis. Seznec became the prime suspect as the last person to have seen Quéméneur alive, and was arrested, charged and imprisoned.
Seznec was found guilty on 4 November 1924. During his eight-day trial, nearly 120 witnesses were heard. The avocat général had demanded the death penalty but since premeditation could not be proved, he was instead condemned to hard labour in perpetuity. He was taken to the prison of St-Laurent-du-Maroni in French Guiana in 1927, and transferred to the Îles du Salut penal colony in 1928.
Benefitting from a remission in his sentence in May 1947, he returned to Paris the following year. In 1953, in Paris, he was reversed into by a van that then drove off (the driver, later questioned, claimed not to have seen anything) and died of his injuries on 13 February 1954.
Miscarriage of justice?
Throughout the trial and for the rest of his life, Seznec never stopped proclaiming his innocence. His descendents fought on to have the case reopened and clear his name (notably his grandson Denis Le Her-Seznec). Until today, all their attempts (14 in total) have failed.
The "commission de révision des condamnations pénales" nevertheless accepted, on 11 April 2005, a reopening of Guillaume Seznec's conviction for murder. This decision could open the way to an eventual annulling of his conviction in 1924. The criminal chamber of the Court of Cassation, France's appeals court, examined the case on 5 October 2006. At this point, Avocat général Jean-Yves Launay required the benefit of the doubt, to Seznec's benefit, raising more particularly the possibility of a police plot - the trainee inspector Pierre Bonny (twenty years later to be assistant to Henri Lafont, head of the Gestapo française) and his superior, commissaire Vidal were charged in the inquiry. At his side, the conseiller rapporteur Jean-Louis Castagnède maintained the opposite opinion, deducing on the one hand any such manipulation seemed improbable due to the few acts established by Bonny and on the other that the experts solicited by the cour de cassation had established that Guillaume Seznec really was the author of the false promise of sale of Quéméneur's property seized at Plourivo.
On 14 December 2006, the Cour de révision refused to annul Seznec's conviction, judging there was no new evidence to call doubt on Seznec's guilt, since the implication of inspector Bonny is (though an interesting element in itself) not new. The affair seems closed and a new request for an annulment unlikely. The Seznec family at first intended to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, but gave up on their lawyers' advice.
In popular culture
Several works have been published on the affair, and Yves Boisset directed the film L'Affaire Seznec in 1992, with Christophe Malavoy in the lead role and also starring Nathalie Roussel, Jean Yanne and Bernard Bloch.
- Victor Hervé, Justice pour Seznec, Editions Hervé, 1933 ;
- Claude Bal, Seznec était innocent, Éditions de Paris, 1955 ;
- Yves Frédéric Jaffré, L'affaire Seznec, SEGEP, 1956 ;
- Jean Rieux - Lice Nedelec, Seznec...innocent ou prestidigitateur criminel ?, Jugant, Lorient, 1976 ;
- Marcel Julian; L'affaire Seznec, Les grandes enquêtes d'Europe, 1979 ;
- Denis Seznec, Nous les Seznec, Éditions Robert Laffont, Paris, 1992 ;
- Denis Langlois, L'Affaire Seznec, Pocket, 1993 ;
- Michel Keriel, Seznec. L'impossible réhabilitation, Éditions MEB, 1998 ; reédition LE MANUSCRIT, 2006 ;
- Aurélien Le Blé (Préface de Denis Seznec), Moi, Pierre Quemeneur, Éditions Alain Bargain, Quimper ;
- Daniel Le Petitcorps, Seznec En quête de vérité, Éditions Le Télégramme, 2003, ISBN 2-84833-058-9 ;
- Bernez Rouz, L'affaire Quéméneur Seznec - Enquête sur un mystère, Éditions Apogée, Rennes, 2005 ;
- Pascal Bresson (préface de Denis Seznec), Guillaume Seznec, une vie retrouvée, Éditions Ouest-France, Rennes, 2006 ( Children's book inspired by Denis Le Her, Seznec's grandson);
- Guy Penaud, L'énigme Seznec, Éditions de La Lauze, Périgueux, 2006 .
- Cour de Cassation Affaire Guillaume Seznec, Arrêt n° 5813 of 14 December 2006 ;
- Nathalie Le Gendre, 49 302, Mango (Autres Mondes), 2006 .
- Albert Baker, "The Seznec mystery : revealed", 2008
- According to the avocat général's conclusions before the appeal court, he had accepted being pardoned by a decree of Charles de Gaulle of 2 February 1946 having taken effect by his signature of the decree of remission of his final sentence by Vincent Auriol in May 1947
- Commission de révision des condamnations pénales, 11 April 2005, n°01-REV-065
- Arrêt n° 5813, affaire Guillaume Seznec 05-82.943, from 14 December 2006 ruling of the chambre criminelle de la Cour de cassation rejecting the demand for annulment
- It has since become known that Bonny was employed in manipulations which led him to the revocation of the police, and to the following death penalty, which casts doubt on the correct procedure of his inquiries
- "Affaire Seznec. Pas de recours devant la cour européenne", Le Télégramme, 14 June 2007
- WikiNews - "Guillaume Seznec restera coupable aux yeux de la justice française"
- WikiSource - l'arrêt de la Cour de Cassation.
- Henley, Jon (April 12, 2005). "French justice willing to retry 1923 murder mystery". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-05-28.
- Chrisafis, Angelique (December 15, 2006). "French murder verdict upheld - 82 years on". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-05-28.