Maurice Papon, the only French Nazi collaborator to be convicted for his role in the deportation of Jews during World War Two, died on Saturday aged 96, police sources said.
A successful post-war politician who became a minister before his past caught up with him, Papon underwent heart surgery on Tuesday and died on Saturday in a private clinic near Paris.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1998 for complicity in crimes against humanity. He fled to Switzerland while appealing against his sentence, but was arrested by Swiss police and handed over to the French authorities.
Papon was jailed in 1999 before being released in September 2002 because of poor health.
His trial confronted France with the reality of its collaboration with Nazi occupiers, a page of history the French quickly turned after the war and began considering only decades later.
In 1942 Papon had been appointed secretary general of the southwest Gironde region and supervised its Service for Jewish Questions.
Papon insisted he knew nothing of the Holocaust at the time and used his position to benefit the French Resistance. He escaped a postwar purge of collaborators to rise through the ranks of the French right.
Appointed chief administrator of the French-ruled island of Corsica in 1947, he went on to become secretary general of the French protectorate of Morocco in 1954 before a 9-year spell as Paris's chief of police from 1958.
As Algeria's battle for independence spilled into France, his period in charge was marked by Arab demonstrations in October 1961 during which beatings carried out by police under his orders resulted in dozens of Algerian bodies being fished out of the River Seine.
The controversy did not stop him from entering parliament as a Gaullist deputy in June 1968. He took his first and only ministerial portfolio as budget minister under centrist Prime Minister Raymond Barre in 1978.
In May 1981, satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine published wartime documents signed by Papon ordering the transfer of hundreds of Jews to the Drancy transit camp in a suburb of Paris from where many were sent to Auschwitz.
German authorities, it emerged, had praised him as a reliable and able collaborator.
His indictment on charges of "crimes against humanity" followed in January 1983 after a lawyer acting for families of deportation victims and French Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld brought formal accusations against him.
Legal technicalities and other delays meant it was a full 14 years until Papon's trial finally began in October 1997. It would become the longest trial in French post-war history.
On April 2, 1998, Papon was found guilty of complicity in crimes against humanity for his role in organising the transport of 1,560 Jews to a Paris transit camp on the way to Auschwitz. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
Papon protested his innocence to the end but failed in his bid for a re-trial.