Former French PM hits back at Sarkozy's 'unacceptable' comment
Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin on Friday branded as "unacceptable" President Nicolas Sarkozy's comment describing him and other defendants in a smear trial as "guilty."Paris - Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin on Friday branded as "unacceptable" President Nicolas Sarkozy's comment describing him and other defendants in a smear trial as "guilty."
Sarkozy touched off a furore when he said in an interview to French televsion on Wednesday that the "guilty parties" in the so-called Clearstream affair were on trial.
"This statement from the president of the republic was unacceptable," Villepin said in the video that showed him responding to questions from web users.
"We have principles when it comes to justice -- the presumption of innocence and the independence of the justice system -- and the president of the republic is the guarantor of this independence," he said.
"He has an obligation to refrain from commenting" on matters before courts, he argued.
It was the first public comments from Villepin since the controversy erupted on Wednesday.
Villepin's lawyers on Thursday described the remark as "scandalous" and said the former prime minister would file suit against Sarkozy for violating his right to presumption of innocence.
Under French law, the head of state enjoys immunity from legal action and Villepin's suit would in theory only be heard once Sarkozy is out of office.
The so-called Clearstream trial opened Monday with Villepin and four others in the dock accused of taking part in a plot hatched in 2003-2004 to smear Sarkozy and torpedo his bid for the presidency.
The two men were then locked in a fierce struggle for the governing right-wing party's nomination to succeed President Jacques Chirac.
Villepin, 55, has denied any wrongdoing and faces up to five years in jail and a EUR 45,000 (USD 66,000) fine if convicted.
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.
"After a two-year investigation, two independent investigating judges ruled that the guilty parties should be tried before a criminal court," said Sarkozy during the interview on French television.
The case centres on a fabricated list of account holders at the Clearstream financial clearing house in Luxembourg who allegedly took bribes from the sale of French warships to Taiwan.
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.
Villepin's camp and politicians on the left have called on Sarkozy to pull out of the case, given his status as president.
The former prime minister who has accused Sarkozy of being obsessed with the case is scheduled to take the stand on Wednesday.