Chirac drawn into bogus corruption charges scam

28th April 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 27, 2006 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac was for the first time drawn into an unfolding dirty tricks scandal at the heart of the French government Friday, being forced to deny allegations that he ordered a secret corruption probe into Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

PARIS, April 27, 2006 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac was for the first time drawn into an unfolding dirty tricks scandal at the heart of the French government Friday, being forced to deny allegations that he ordered a secret corruption probe into Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

"The president of the republic categorically denies having ordered the least investigation targeting political personalities whose names may have been mentioned," according to a statement from the Elysee palace.

Le Monde newspaper reported earlier that in January 2004 Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin — then foreign minister — ordered a senior intelligence figure to look into claims that Sarkozy ran a secret foreign bank account.

According to Le Monde, Villepin cited Chirac's authority in asking the official to conduct the enquiry.

The allegations against Sarkozy turned out to be bogus, and two judges are trying to find the source of what they suspect is an attempt to smear his and other names.

A year ahead of presidential elections, the fast-developing affair has widespread implications because of the deep political rivalry between Villepin and Chirac on the one hand and Sarkozy — who is also leader of the ruling UMP party — on the other.

Though the three have maintained an outward appearance of cooperation on the issue, members of Sarkozy's entourage have accused Villepin of at the least failing to make public information which he knew would exonerate the interior minister.

The case goes back to 2004, when a set of documents and CD-ROMs were sent anonymously to judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke, naming Sarkozy and a string of others as holders of secret accounts at the Luxembourg-based bank Clearstream.

Several of those named — who included senior figures in the European defence and aerospace giant EADS — were also accused of receiving kickbacks from the US $2.8 billion sale of French frigates to Taiwan in 1991, which Ruymbeke was investigating at the time.

A brief inquiry revealed the documents to be faked, and a defamation lawsuit was opened.

Villepin has also vehemently denied ordering a secret probe into Sarkozy or other named figures.

In an interview with Le Figaro newspaper Friday, he said that when the allegations of kickbacks started circulating in early 2004 he asked Philippe Rondot — a veteran intelligence expert — to look into the rumours in a general way.

Later in 2004 when it became clear the allegations were fake, Villepin — at this point interior minister — then ordered a formal investigation by the domestic intelligence service the DST.

However in his testimony to the two judges quoted by Le Monde, Rondot claimed that at a meeting with Villepin at the foreign ministry in January 2004 Sarkozy's name was indeed mentioned.

According to Rondot's evidence, Villepin told him that Chirac had issued instructions that the investigation be into whether named individuals including Sarkozy had a secret account at Clearstream.

And in a note on the meeting found by investigators at Rondot's home, the intelligence official had written: "Political issues at stake: N. Sarkozy. Fixation on N. Sarkozy (ref. conflict Chirac/Sarkozy)", Le Monde said.

The so-called "Clearstream affair" has gathered momentum in recent weeks, with searches at the office of Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and the offices of senior French intelligence officials and industrialists.

It has further undermined Villepin's political authority, which was already weakened by the government's U-turn on a proposed youth jobs contract, withdrawn earlier this month after weeks of mass protests.

At the heart of the affair is the question: how much did Villepin and Chirac know and when? And did they withhold knowledge which they knew could have cleared Sarkozy's name.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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