Investigators search former Prime Minister's offices

7th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 6, 2007 (AFP) - French investigators searched former prime minister Dominique de Villepin's office on Friday as part of a probe over bogus corruption allegations against President Nicolas Sarkozy.

PARIS, July 6, 2007 (AFP) - French investigators searched former prime minister Dominique de Villepin's office on Friday as part of a probe over bogus corruption allegations against President Nicolas Sarkozy.

 The raid came a day after judges looking into the so-called Clearstream affair conducted a six-hour search at the Paris home of the former prime minister, who cut short his vacation to return to the capital late Thursday.

Villepin, who was present during the search at his offices at a foreign ministry building, appears increasingly likely to face charges in the tangled case, according to judicial sources.

"I've just been through some moments which, as you can imagine, were not very agreeable but I know that the truth will come out," Villepin told journalists as he left his office later Friday night.

Judges Jean-Marie d'Huy and Henri Pons were seen leaving the building earlier Friday, followed by police carrying a large box.

Investigators are following up on new evidence suggesting that Villepin sought in 2004 to defame Sarkozy and scupper his bid for the presidency, justice officials said.

Controversy over the scandal was revived after documents were retrieved from the computer of retired intelligence chief Philippe Rondot that implicated the former prime minister.

The files appear to back up claims that Villepin encouraged the leaking of information falsely implicating Sarkozy, then interior minister, in a financial scandal, justice officials said.

The documents also suggest Villepin was acting with the clear support of then president Jacques Chirac.

During the search at Villepin's Paris apartment in the fashionable 17th arrondissement, investigators took several files including two that were marked "confidential -- defence," according to Le Monde newspaper.

Both Villepin and Chirac have denied involvement in the affair, which revolves around a fake list of account-holders at the Clearstream bank of Luxembourg who supposedly benefited from illegal commissions from arms sales.

Judges in charge of the investigation are looking into allegations that Villepin and Chirac may have tried to secretly publicise the list to wreck Sarkozy's presidential hopes. His relationship with the two was at the time under great strain.

Chirac, who handed over power to Sarkozy in May, has refused to speak to the judges, arguing that in this matter he is still covered by presidential immunity.

Villepin, who also left office in May, on Thursday denounced the new "untruthful allegations," insisting in a statement that he "never sought to investigate or compromise any political personality in the Clearstream affair."

He was interviewed as a witness in the case in December 2006, but has now asked for "assisted witness" status to allow him to properly "defend himself."

Under French law, an "assisted witness" is a person against whom there are preliminary suspicions of wrongdoing and who has the right to be interviewed in the presence of a lawyer and to have access to the judge's findings.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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