The death of Renaud Van Ruymbeke, emblematic investigating judge

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Renaud Van Ruymbeke, in Paris, in 2013. LEA CRESPI / PASCO&CO

The last exchange of SMS dates from the end of January 2021. It was about a documentary for France 2, “The affair that exploded the right”, in which he had agreed to participate – this included addressing the Bygmalion file, which he had investigated. At the last moment, he changed his mind. “I am always worried when it comes to matters that I cannot discuss”, he wrote to us first. Then, a few days later: “On reflection, given the context in which the documentary takes place and the ongoing procedures, I cannot and do not want to appear in the documentary at all. »

Until the end, Renaud Van Ruymbeke, who died at the age of 71, remained this affable and thoughtful man, sometimes torn between the duty of reserve imposed on magistrates and his desire to share the great affair of his life: justice. His death, announced by the chancellery on Friday May 10, caused great emotion in the judiciary, as this man of slender appearance, with a mischievous look behind thin glasses, his eternal little mustache slung over his shoulder, had acquired, over decades spectacular investigations, icon status.

In fact, no one will have embodied better than him the figure of the intrepid investigating judge whose investigations make the powerful tremble. Even Eric Dupond-Moretti, whose hostility to this corporation is notorious, paid tribute to it. “France loses a great magistrate and justice an immense servant. I send my heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones.”wrote the Minister of Justice on X.

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Born in 1952 in Neuilly-sur-Seine (Hauts-de-Seine), Renaud Van Ruymbeke had a vocation very early on. As soon as he left the National School of Magistrates (ENM) in 1977, he asked to study economic and financial affairs. Appointed to the Caen court, he recovered somewhat by chance, in 1979, when he was only 27 years old, a procedure which would soon make him famous: the investigation in fact implicated Valéry’s labor minister Giscard d’Estaing, Robert Boulin, involved in the suspicious purchase of land in Ramatuelle (Var). The indictment of Robert Boulin, who was then said “prime minister”, made a big noise. It was the beginning of political-financial affairs, led by a few courageous investigating judges, at a time when justice was most often at the orders of political power.

With this affair, Van Ruymbeke becomes both the standard bearer and the incarnation of these “red judges”, as they are – incorrectly – nicknamed. If he discovers the joys of media coverage, “VR”, as his colleagues renamed him, quickly – and violently – sobered up. On October 30, 1979, the body of the Minister of Labor was found lifeless in a pond in the Rambouillet forest (Yvelines). In a letter written just before his death, he denounced “an ambitious judge, hateful of society and a priori considering a minister as a prevaricator”.

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