French prosecutors seek 18-month suspended sentence for ex-PM

21st October 2009, Comments 0 comments

Ex-prime minister Dominique de Villepin accused Nicolas Sarkozy of hanging him on a "butcher's hook" on Tuesday after prosecutors called for an 18-month suspended sentence against him.

"Nicolas Sarkozy had promised to hang me on a butcher's hook (and) I see that the promise has been kept," Villepin said bitterly after prosecutors asked for the sentence to be combined with a EUR 45,000 (USD 70,000) fine.

The 55-year-old is charged with conspiring to discredit Sarkozy and derail his presidential bid in 2004 at a time when the two men were jostling to succeed president Jacques Chirac.

Prosecutors argued that while Villepin had not deliberately taken part in the plot to defame Sarkozy with falsified documents, he had failed to take action to stop the conspiracy and was an "accomplice through silence."

The request was less than the maximum five years allowed under the law for a conviction on charges of complicity to slander, complicity to use forgeries, dealing in stolen property and breach of trust.

But Villepin's lawyers argued that the sentencing appeal was unfair, given that the prosecutors had acknowledged that the former prime minister had not been an active participant in the conspiracy dubbed the Clearstream affair.

"We have just made it illegal to do nothing," said Villepin's lawyer Olivier Metzner.

The complex case centres on a fake list of account holders from the Clearstream financial clearing house who were said to have received kickbacks from the sale of French warships to Taiwan.

Sarkozy's name was on the list and the French president alleges the scandal was fabricated to tarnish him during his campaign for the party's nomination ahead of the 2007 vote, which he won.

A sentence of three years in jail, with all but 18 months to be suspended, was requested for co-defendant Jean-Louis Gergorin, a former aerospace executive who leaked the bogus list to investigators.

Villepin "became an accomplice by endorsing through his silence the actions taken by Jean-Louis Gergorin," said lead prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin.

"While there were legitimate questions surrounding the behaviour of Dominique de Villepin, there lacks tangible proof that he deliberately and in all conscience was implicated," said Marin.

Prosecutors called for a two-year sentence with six months to be suspended for Imad Lahoud, the mathematician who has admitted to adding Sarkozy's name to the fake list.

The sensational trial opened a month ago in the courtroom where Marie Antoinette was sentenced to the guillotine in 1793, with Villepin accusing Sarkozy of pursuing a personal vendetta against him.

Villepin renewed the charge during testimony last month, saying that Sarkozy had shown a "relentlessness to destroy a political adversary" and that the case was "built unilaterally, for the benefit of one party."

Sarkozy is one of the 39 civil plaintiffs in the case that has also exposed the murky ties between France's political elite and the secret services.

France's trial of the decade ends on Friday but judges are not expected to render a verdict before January.

An acquittal for Villepin, best known for leading the charge against the 2003 US invasion of Iraq at the United Nations, would allow him to re-launch his political career.

Once Chirac's preferred heir who also served as foreign and interior minister in his government, Villepin has become one of Sarkozy's most outspoken opponents over the past two years.

Prosecutors called for the acquittal of journalist Denis Robert and a four-month suspended sentence for accountant Florian Bourges, who played a minor role in the affair.


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