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WW1 spy Mata Hari framed - lawyer

Mata Hari was executed by a firing squad in October 1917
Mata Hari was executed by a firing squad in October 1917  

PARIS, France -- A legal battle is being launched in an attempt to redeem the reputation of exotic World War I spy and femme fatale Mata Hari.

A Dutch group is claiming that her execution by a French firing squad in 1917 as a German spy who was responsible for the deaths of 50,000 men was a mistake and that she was framed.

Lawyer Thibault De Montbrial, acting on behalf of a Dutch foundation that bears Mata Hari's name, has asked French officials at the Ministry of Justice to review her case.

"She was not a traitor," said De Montbrial, who is basing his case on new evidence found by Leon Schirmann, author of The Mata Hari Affair, published in France.

Spies: Famous and infamous 

Schirmann combed through French, British and German military archives and found evidence that Mata Hari was framed by German secret services, who claimed she was a double agent.

In 1999, declassified British intelligence papers showed they could find no evidence Mata Hari had worked as a secret agent.

De Montbrial said: "She was the victim of a campaign of false information by the French secret service that was approved at all levels.

"The truth was deliberately hidden."

For many, Mata Hari ranks second only to fictional hero James Bond in spy mythology while her name has become synonymous with sex, intrigue and betrayal.

Her mystique and allure was further enhanced by a 1933 film of her life in which she was played by the equally enigmatic Greta Garbo.

Firing squad myth

Born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in the Dutch town of Leeuwarden, Mata Hari left home at 19 when she married a captain in the Royal Dutch East Indies Army and accompanied him to the former Dutch colony, now Indonesia.

Their relationship soured, and in 1903 she left him and went to Paris, where she began dancing in nightclubs and nude reviews.

She became involved with men in the most powerful circles with access to military secrets, and both the French and the Germans reportedly enlisted her as a spy.

French authorities eventually accused her of revealing secrets, including information about a new French tank, to an official at the German embassy in Madrid.

She was also accused of receiving money from the German consulate in the Netherlands.

She was arrested and executed in the Paris suburb of Vincennes on October 15, 1917.

The myth is that she allegedly stood in front of the firing squad wearing nothing except a fur coat that she threw open to try to persuade them not to fire.

The truth was bleaker. She refused to wear a blindfold and was killed by 11 shots from a 12-man squad.

Afterwards a French cavalry sergeant walked up to her and fired another bullet into her head.

De Montbrial said: "The French military was determined to see her shot, partly to show the efficiency of their own anti-espionage system and partly because public opinion was tired of seeing rich Parisians living the high life when men were being shot on the battlefield."

Lawyers cannot automatically file an appeal to clear her name because under French law this is a right reserved for family members. No relatives of the dancer are known to be alive.

The appeal to the Ministry of Justice was the first step in a lengthy legal process to try to clear her name.

Only Justice Minister Marylise Lebranchu has the right to sanction a retrial, and De Montbrial said this could take months.


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