Clearstream judges interview PM - for 17 hours

21st December 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 22, 2006 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was questioned for 17 hours Thursday and Friday by judges looking into the so-called Clearstream scandal, in which top politicians faced bogus allegations of holding secret bank accounts.

PARIS, Dec 22, 2006 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was questioned for 17 hours Thursday and Friday by judges looking into the so-called Clearstream scandal, in which top politicians faced bogus allegations of holding secret bank accounts.

Apart for an hour's break for lunch, the prime minister spent the day and part of the night at the financial section of the criminal courts in Paris, where judges Jean-Marie d'Huy and Henri Pons interviewed him in the longest hearing of the case. It wound up at around 3am Friday.

Only on one other occasion in modern France has a prime minister been interviewed in a criminal enquiry. That was in 2001 when the Socialist Lionel Jospin was questioned in an investigation into corrupt party funding.

Centring on sham allegations of illegal accounts held at a Luxembourg clearing-bank, the Clearstream affair erupted in April and for a time appeared to threaten Villepin's future as prime minister.

He denies accusations that as foreign minister in early 2004 he ordered a secret enquiry into claims that his rival Nicolas Sarkozy — interior minister and presidential hopeful — was on a list of names of alleged Clearstream account-holders. The list turned out later to be fake.

Villepin was questioned as a simple witness in the case, which means the judges do not currently intend to bring charges against him.

The judges have recently also interviewed former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie.

 Villepin was expected to be asked about a meeting he chaired at the foreign ministry in January 2004, when he ordered senior intelligence official Philippe Rondot to conduct a secret enquiry into the Clearstream names.

According to evidence leaked to Le Monde newspaper, Rondot later said that Sarkozy's name was specifically mentioned in this meeting — but this was denied by Villepin.

The meeting was also attended by Jean-Louis Gergorin, a former vice-president of the aerospace company EADS, who is now under judicial investigation after admitting disseminating the fake list of names.

A computer expert, Imad Lahoud, was also placed under investigation in June for "spreading false accusations" and forgery. Two other men — a journalist and a former employee of the Arthur Andersen accountancy firm — are also facing charges.

No clear explanation has yet been offered of why the list of names was concocted. Those included were all said to have used Clearstream to conceal kickbacks from a massive arms sales to Taiwan in the early 1990s.

In January Sarkozy registered as a civil plaintiff in the judges' investigation, after being convinced of a plot to destabilise his presidential ambitions ahead of the April 2007 election.

Villepin has said repeatedly that he looked forward to testifying before the judges, so he could give his version of events.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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