A large-living, Porsche-driving French gendarme goes on trial Tuesday before a Corsican court tasked with ruling whether he was a crooked cop or the fall guy for commanders who pushed investigative tactics to the limit of legality.
Philippe Levan, once a rising star in the gendarmery police force on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, is accused of selling seized drugs, running illegal wire taps, passing tips to the mafia and other acts of corruption.
Levan, an energetic 41-year-old nicknamed "Le Chinois" (the Chinese man) for his Asian origins, denies nearly all of the prosecution's story.
The former captain was posted to Corsica from 2002 to 2007, running the elite investigations unit in the port city of Bastia.
He was then promoted to commander of the gendarmery unit in Frejus on the coast of southern France.
But his name came up in an investigation into racketeering back on Corsica, where his ex-colleagues say he provided information to a suspected mafia member.
He also drew attention with his lavish lifestyle, driving a Porsche and buying a luxury villa in southern France.
In 2008, gendarmery inspectors launched an investigation into his activities on Corsica. The following year he was charged and jailed for three months before being released pending trial.
He resigned from the force in 2010.
He faces a thick, 12-volume list of accusations at his three-day trial, which opens Tuesday in Bastia.
Prosecutors say he signed false documents vouching that 100 kilos (220 pounds) of seized cannabis resin had been destroyed, when in fact he allegedly removed the drugs from police custody and sold them.
He appeared on similar charges last year in Draguignan on the French mainland, but the case was thrown out on a ruling that his rights as a defendant had not been respected.
He is also accused of illegally tapping phones on behalf of mafia-linked clients -- who allegedly payed 100 euros per victim per day for the service -- and of kidnapping, handcuffing and roughing up a suspect in a case.
An earlier hearing in October was cut short because a key witness for the prosecution, a convicted criminal serving time for a separate case, tried to kill himself by overdosing on medication.
Levan's lawyers have said they will argue his actions were in fact part of aggressive investigative techniques encouraged by his superiors, and plan to call local gendarmes and judges as witnesses.
"This exceptional officer was simply applying the methods used by others in the gendarmery and validated by their superiors," said lawyer Olivier Morice.
"The key matter is to find out who is behind this fierce drive to bring about captain Levan's downfall."