Former French PM files suit against Sarkozy
France's ex-prime minister Dominique de Villepin filed suit on Monday against Nicolas Sarkozy after the president called him and other defendants in a smear trial "guilty", a judicial official said.
Villepin accuses Sarkozy of violating his right to presumption of innocence when he said in a television interview last week that the "guilty parties" in the so-called Clearstream affair were on trial.
Under French law, the head of state enjoys immunity from legal action and the suit would in theory only be heard once Sarkozy is out of office.
France's most politically charged trial in years opened last week with Villepin and four other defendants accused of taking part in a plot hatched in 2003-2004 to smear Sarkozy and derail his bid for the presidency.
Villepin and Sarkozy were then bitter rivals in the struggle for the governing right-wing party's nomination to succeed president Jacques Chirac.
The case centres on a list, which was later proved to have been fabricated, of account holders at the Clearstream financial clearing house in Luxembourg who allegedly took bribes from the sale of French warships to Taiwan.
"After a two-year investigation, two independent investigating judges ruled that the guilty parties should be tried before a criminal court," Sarkozy said during the interview on French television on Wednesday.
Villepin described the comments as "unacceptable" and argued that Sarkozy had "an obligation to refrain from commenting" on matters before the courts.
Opposition politicians said Sarkozy's remarks made on French television were a "revealing slip of the tongue" that showed he was not impartial in the case involving his arch-rival, Villepin.
Sarkozy has registered as a civil plaintiff in the case, saying he wants the trial to reveal the truth about the bogus list and how his name ended up on it.
The 55-year-old Villepin, who has denied any wrongdoing, faces up to five years in jail and a EUR 45,000 (USD 66,000) fine if convicted.
The prime minister attacked Sarkozy on the first day of his trial, accusing the president of being obsessed with the case and turning it into a personal vendetta.