AS Saint-Etienne, Jacques Vergès, the terrorist Carlos… Confidences of the lawyer André Buffard on his formidable career

Made famous despite himself in the 80s in the complicated world of football in Saint-Etienne, André Buffard has become one of the most eminent French criminal lawyers and the lawyer of international footballers. Alongside Jacques Vergès in particular, he defended sometimes very unpopular defendants, such as murderers or terrorists. With a “formidable” distance…. Encounter

This concept seems a bit outdated to me. », repels, from the outset, Maître André Buffard, often presented as being the “tenor” of the bar of Saint-Etienne. This renowned criminal lawyer is best known for the clients he has had to defend. Some have clearly marked the news, such as the Stéphane chief warrant officer Pierre Chanal (main suspect in the case of the disappeared from Mourmelon in Champagne), the fake doctor Jean-Claude Romand (who killed his whole family before trying to committing suicide in 1993), or even the Venezuelan terrorist Carlos… André Buffard also has a well-filled client list in the world of football. It was this sport that literally propelled his career.

What profession is more at the service of others than that of a lawyer, where one speaks for others?

Born in Saint-Etienne, where his parents ran a grocery store, he studied with the Jesuits in Saint-Michel, then, in 1066, at the faculty of law which had just opened its doors. He already had the firm intention of exercising this profession. “ I did not become a lawyer by accident. I made this choice very early on. I dreamed of being a lawyer, of pleading and, naturally, it is in criminal cases that this happens. I think it comes from my upbringing. The Jesuits taught me to be considerate of others. What profession is more at the service of others than that of a lawyer, where one speaks for others? said the young idealist to himself then. “The reality is a bit different, but I was very lucky. I started very quickly, and I did what I wanted to do…he smiles.

He obtained the necessary diplomas in Lyon and started with Master Michel Moulard, among other young beginners, with whom a form of solidarity was organized. ” At that time, the craft was still a caste. There were few lawyers in Saint-Etienne. The sudden arrival of several young people from the faculty was not well received by the people in place. It’s true that we were a little manhandled », recalls Master Buffard.

He then crisscrossed France as part of his apprenticeship and met, during his travels, Master Emile Pollak, a great criminal lawyer from Marseille. “ He taught me many things. And first of all humility. He is first of all a simple and very accessible man. This immense lawyer also had a concern for others and the desire to teach. When I met him, I was very complexed and inhibited. But Pollak surely allowed me to take this step… to gain self-confidence. He remembers having thus pleaded with him in difficult cases. ” It was complicated because he was a grandmaster. He taught me to ignore my complexes… To simply dive in and become a lawyer. »

At the beginning of the 1980s, Maître Buffard joined the Board of Directors of AS Saint-Etienne. In 1981, the affair of the club’s “slush fund” broke out. A sum of around 20,000 francs, from the football club shop, was used to pay undeclared players. The lawyer takes his part in these revelations. ” I found myself at the head of a movement that would put the great president of the time, Roger Rocher, in difficulty. At this time, ASSE was the major French media club. So this case is causing a huge scandal, with terrible repercussions he recalls.

Involved in this case presented in the media for months, André Buffard is himself propelled to the forefront of the news. ” I am then, without doubt, the most media personality among those who opposed the practices that were current at that time. “, he analyzes with hindsight. He goes through 18 months of threats, and pressure, with difficulty. ” When this small internal revolution is triggered, I can’t imagine at all the extent that it will take. I had no ambition to take the place of the current president. But of course, football is a passion! It will be very painful, because many fellow citizens will hate me.»

I’ve been faced with hate

But, despite the harshness of the moment, the ordeal will serve as a lesson to him. “ I was confronted with hatred. I discover this with amazement. But it will harden me a lot, because I will have to face hostile crowds. Which means that afterwards… everything else seemed much easier to me in the exercise of my profession » quips the lawyer.

Football again. Maître Buffard became the specialist in negotiating contracts between clubs and internationally renowned players such as Michel Platini, Dominique Rocheteau or Eric Cantona. ” After the ASSE episode, I honestly didn’t really want to stay in this environment. I happened to be friends with a number of players. At that time, there were practically no players’ agents, supporting their careers. I accepted the request of some to manage their affairs. One thing leading to another, I was finally led to negotiate contracts for a large number of players. And also for certain clubs which have mandated me to carry out transfers “, he summarizes.

As a lawyer, he collaborated with a colleague with a sulphurous reputation, Maître Jacques Verges. This will be particularly the case during the trial of Direct Action, a terrorist group, at the origin of approximately 80 attacks between 1979 and 1987. I owe a lot to this man, whom I knew for years. He was a brilliant intelligence, a man of great culture. One of the last great talented lawyers, with a taste for the defense. »

Again, he learns. ” Jacques Verges surely taught me impertinence. The fact of not hesitating, when all is lost, to tell the judge what you think. He taught me a lot about how to confront magistrates when things are tough and all is lost. This is what he called the breakaway strategy. »

In France, the number of lawyers as famous as their clients, having marked the history of justice, are few. Lawyers like Olivier Metzner, François La Phuong, André Soulier, Eric Dupond-Moretti… but few women. ” There are many today », corrects Buffard. ” The fact that they are less famous is a great injustice. At the bar, there are now many more women than men, with very great talents. The macho culture of this profession – and of this country – meant that, for a long time, we only spoke of “tenors”. You had to have a voice. In my opinion, many current female lawyers deserve the media headlines, as much as the males, who have benefited from it in past years. »




video length: 01min 44

Maître André Buffard answers the “very shabby” question



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Master André Buffard has sometimes defended clients who are not very frequentable. “ I confess, indeed, to have spent months going to meet the terrorist Carlos (alias Ilich Ramirez Sanchez), at the rate of one day per month, in Paris, to speak with him. And not necessarily the case, but also his adventure, his motivations, and the geopolitical situation that led him to his actions. »

The role of the lawyer is not to be a friend of his client, it is to defend him

He has a special memory of it. ” He is a fascinating character, who speaks seven languages, with an immense culture. To defend well, you have to know how to keep a distance from those you are defending. Even if there is an element of fascination or sympathy.»

It then summarizes its principle of operation. ” The role of the lawyer is not to be a friend of his client, it is to defend him. But he doesn’t forget that he also defended great people. He has a big smile: Don’t forget either that we don’t only defend the guilty! »

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