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Belgium returns hundreds of stolen state archives to France

14:12 08/10/2021

More than 550 French state archives stolen between 1980 and 2001 by organised crime gangs and stockpiled in Belgium have been returned to their country of origin.

Hélène Farnaud-Defromont, the French ambassador to Belgium, called described the handover, in Liège this week, as "a very moving moment".

After 25 years of investigation and lengthy legal proceedings, this is the last instalment of more than two tonnes of documents to be returned. They were stolen over 20 years and then found in 2001.

Part of the delay was due to the legal procedures - but there was also a great deal of investigative work necessary to determine from where some of the documents had been taken.

Among the documents returned, the centrepiece is a letter from the hand of Louis XIII and dated 1628. "We suppose that it is addressed to Richelieu, the context lets us think so but we are not sure,” explained Bernard Wilkin, an archivist in Liège.

This document, "full of erasures and spelling mistakes - we know that King Louis XIII did not write very well - begs the addressee not to go to battle" in La Rochelle, which was then under siege.

The Belgian archives call on anyone who has any doubts about the legality of documents in their possession to contact them. They remind us that public archives belong to the public authorities and are therefore inalienable.

Written by Richard Harris