Clearstream judges grill defence minister

10th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 11, 2006 (AFP) - French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie early Saturday left a Paris court after a more than 11-hour interview by judges looking into the so-called Clearstream dirty tricks scandal in which presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy believes he was the victim of a smear.

PARIS, Nov 11, 2006 (AFP) - French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie early Saturday left a Paris court after a more than 11-hour interview by judges looking into the so-called Clearstream dirty tricks scandal in which presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy believes he was the victim of a smear.

Alliot-Marie emerged from the financial section of the Paris central court without making a statement after questioning that dragged on for 11 and a half hours.

She was the third serving or former minister to be interviewed as a witness in connection with the case, after former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and former foreign minister Michel Barnier.

Examining magistrates Jean-Marie d'Huy and Henri Pons are also expected to ask to question Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin in the coming weeks.

The judges are seeking to establish how much people in government knew of a list of alleged secret account-holders at the Clearstream bank of Luxembourg that was circulating in late 2003 and early 2004.

An anonymous informant had accused them of accepting bribes in the sale of frigates to Taiwan in 1991.

Among the names on the bogus list was that of Sarkozy, who in January this year lodged a judicial complaint for libel.

When the scandal broke in April it appeared for a time to threaten Villepin's political future, amid allegations that he ordered a secret investigation into Sarkozy's presence on the list. The two men are long-time political rivals.

The judges are believed to be looking for evidence that might stand up the claims against Villepin.

The prime minister — who was foreign minister at the time — has said that he acted in his official capacity to order an intelligence enquiry into the list as a whole, and not into specific names. He has said he welcomes the chance to speak to the judges.

Alliot-Marie was being interviewed as a witness, which means there is no suggestion of coming under suspicion.

The judges have the option of asking to see Villepin as an "assisted witness" in the presence of a lawer, which would imply that they might have a case against him.

Jean-Louis Gergorin, a former EADS executive and associate of Villepin, is under judicial investigation after admitting compiling the list of names, though he insists he did it in good faith.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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