LYON, France — Accused "Butcher of Lyon" Klaus Barbie bragged to U.S. counterespionage agents that he had been the best Gestapo agent in France in World War II, a former American intelligence officer testified Thursday.
Barbie, 73, whose trial opened Monday, is accused of the deportation, torture or murder of nearly 800 Jews and Resistance members while he was the chief of the Nazi Gestapo security police in Lyon from 1942 to 1944.
Erhard Dabringhaus, 70, a retired college professor living in Sarasota, Fla., said he was Barbie's contact with U.S. counterespionage officials in 1947.
Barbie was an informant for U.S. agents until 1951, working in Augsburg, Germany, to gain intelligence on the Communists, and the agents arranged his escape to South America.
"He told me that he considered himself the best agent in France," said Dabringhaus, testifying in French. "He said he was a die-hard Nazi and was disappointed in having lost the war."
Barbie is refusing to attend court for the remainder of the trial on charges of crimes against humanity. Although convicted twice in absentia of war crimes, Barbie claimed Wednesday that he was illegally extradited by Bolivia to France in 1983.
Also Thursday, the former Bolivian Interior Ministry official who turned Barbie over to the French in 1983 testified that Barbie helped organize a neo-fascist group in Bolivia that was involved in drug trafficking, arms deals and assassinations.
Dabringhaus said that, in his opinion, Barbie "rarely" produced useful information but that his superiors often thought otherwise. As an example, he said Barbie once produced a copy of an article from a Czechoslovak news agency that Dabringhaus had already read in a German newspaper.
Once Dabringhaus found out that Barbie had been a Gestapo officer, he told his superiors. "But they told me not to say anything because he was valuable."
When the French learned that Barbie was working for the Americans, Dabringhaus said he was ordered not to tell them anything.
Former Bolivian Interior Minister Gustavo Sanchez testified that Barbie was involved in paramilitary activities in Bolivia in the 1970s during the military dictatorship of Gen. Hugo Banzer and earned the rank of honorary lieutenant colonel.
He said Barbie organized a fascist paramilitary group called the "Fiances of Death" that trafficked in drugs, but when asked by prosecutor Pierre Truche for proof, he said he had no solid evidence. Later, he said the group also carried out assassinations.
Jacques Verges, Barbie's lawyer, labeled Sanchez "Mr. $5,000" and accused him of accepting that sum for arranging Barbie's arrest and deportation.