Clearstream's 'poison pen' questioned by police

30th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 30, 2006 (AFP) - A former EADS executive and ally of the French prime minister who has admitted to launching the dirty tricks scandal rocking the centre-right government was Tuesday taken into custody for questioning over the affair.

PARIS, May 30, 2006 (AFP) - A former EADS executive and ally of the French prime minister who has admitted to launching the dirty tricks scandal rocking the centre-right government was Tuesday taken into custody for questioning over the affair.

Jean-Louis Gergorin arrived early Tuesday morning at the offices of the national fraud squad DNIF in Nanterre west of Paris, where he was immediately placed in custody — allowing police to question him for up to 48 hours.

Gergorin has admitted that it was he who sent a judge a list of alleged account-holders at the Clearstream bank of Luxembourg, sparking a complex scandal that has embroiled the centre-right government.

The 60-year-old industrialist and foreign affairs expert — a former associate of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin — resigned this month as a vice-president of the European defence company EADS to devote himself to his defence.

The Clearstream letters named a string of French businessmen and politicians including Villepin's arch-rival Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy as having received illegal commissions via the bank.

Though the claims turned out to be false, Sarkozy believes he was the victim of a smear campaign ahead of the 2007 presidential elections in which he is a leading candidate.

Gergorin — who denies having fabricated the lists — told Le Figaro newspaper he believed them to have a "high probability of accuracy" and turned them over to ensure they would be investigated.

Police are expected to press Gergorin to reveal the identity of the "secret source" who he says provided him with the data.

His lawyer told AFP Monday he was "glad to be able to explain himself at last, as he had requested" over the affair.

After 48 hours Gergorin — who has been questioned twice before as a witness in the affair, his home and offices searched — could be placed under judicial investigation on charges of defamation.

The Clearstream letters — sent in 2004 to a French judge investigating illegal commissions paid in the sale of French warships to Taiwan — sparked a complex scandal which escalated last month into an affair of state.

A string of judicial leaks to the media fuelled weeks of claims and counterclaims exposing the fratricidal battle between the government's two top figures, Villepin and Sarkozy.

Villepin had to fight off calls for his resignation after being accused of asking a spy chief — on Chirac's orders — to secretly check whether the claims against Sarkozy were true. Both Chirac and Villepin deny the accusation.

Retired spymaster Philippe Rondot — whose leaked testimony has implicated both the president and prime minister — was escorted by police before investigating magistrates last Monday but refused to answer their questions.

Both he and Gergorin are being questioned as part of a defamation investigation seeking to pin down the true author of the claims. Given the complexity of the case, the probe is expected to last three to four years.

Whatever the outcome, however, the Clearstream scandal has already badly damaged the centre-right, boosting the chances of the opposition socialists and the far-right National Front a year ahead of presidential elections.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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