Who is Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, the lawyer taking Argo to court?

Mar 13, 2013

Iran has hired a controversial French lawyer to sue Hollywood over the 'Iranophobia' in its movies

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Isabelle Coutant-Peyre

IRAN has hired the controversial French lawyer, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, to sue Hollywood over the "distorted" way the Islamic state is portrayed in American movies including the Oscar-winning Argo. The 61-year-old has flown to Tehran to discuss the case, which will be lodged in an international court, and target the directors and producers the Islamic state accuses of 'Iranophobia', says The Guardian. But who is Coutant-Peyre, a woman famous for smoking Cuban cigarillos and taking an "aggressive" approach to defending her clients?

She was raised in a bourgeois family and educated by nuns. Coutant-Peyre's parents separated when she was nine and she was raised by her father, a distinguished businessman. She was educated at a Catholic boarding school and married a civil servant when she was in her 20s. When she embarked on a career as a lawyer, her speciality was bankruptcy law.

So what changed? In 1981, at the age of 30, Coutant-Peyre was "taken under the wing" of Jacques Verges, a legendary defender of "celebrity villains", says the New York Times. Verges has been dubbed 'the Devil's Advocate' because he has defended clients including Gestapo member Klaus Barbie and the notorious Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. Coutant-Peyre adopted some of the "rupture tactics" that made Verges famous in legal circles. In essence, she treats a trial like a political lynching, occasionally turning her back on judges and sometimes walking out to make her point.

She married a convicted terrorist. One of Coutant-Peyre's most high-profile clients is Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal. The Venezuelan became an "almost mythical figure" in the 1970s and 80s when he carried out a string of hijackings and terror attacks across western Europe. He is believed to be implicated in the deaths of at least 80 people and once boasted he had killed 1,500 people in support of the Palestinian cause. The pair met in 1997 when Coutant-Peyre was part of the legal team defending Sanchez against charges he had murdered two French policemen and an informant in 1976. She recalls their meeting at La Sante prison in Paris as a "coup de foudre" - love at first sight. "He took my hand and kissed it in the most courteous way. At that moment a wave of recognition passed between us." Sanchez sacked Verges and appointed Coutant-Peyre as his legal representative shortly afterwards. He was jailed for life, but she married him in a prison room in 2001 and continues to plead his innocence.

She wrote a book about her marriage. French authorities considered her marriage "provocative" and threatened to have her disbarred. Rather than backing away, Coutant-Peyre wrote a book called Epouser Carlos: Un Amour sous Haute Tension (Marrying Carlos: A High-Pressure Love) that "detailed their love" and contained a selection of his "excruciating" love poems.

Why has Iran hired her? As well as her passion for difficult, seemingly unwinnable cases, Coutant-Peyre admits to being vehemently anti-American. She has described the US as "imperialist" and "tyrannical".

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