New revelations add twist to ex-French PM's trial
The upcoming trial of former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin took a new twist Sunday with fresh revelations that the top politician knowingly plotted to smear President Nicolas Sarkozy.Paris - The upcoming trial of former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin took a new twist Sunday with fresh revelations that the top politician knowingly plotted to smear President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Villepin goes on trial on September 21 on charges of conspiring to slander Sarkozy in the so-called Clearstream affair, a complex case dating back to 2004 when the two men were locked in a bitter rivalry for the French presidency.
The former prime minister and foreign minister, who led the charge against the US invasion war of Iraq at the United Nations, has denied any wrongdoing and struck back, accusing Sarkozy of meddling.
But a leading newspaper at the weekend quoted an affidavit from a key defendant, Imad Lahoud, as saying that Villepin was behind the conspiracy targeting Sarkozy.
Lahoud told French investigators in December that he had added Sarkozy's name to a bogus list of Clearstream account holders who had allegedly received kickbacks from arms sales to Taiwan, the Journal du Dimanche reported.
"By doing this, I was contributing to sidelining Nicolas Sarkozy," Lahoud, a former employee of European aerospace giant EADS, told investigators, according to the report.
Lahoud said he knew that Villepin was in contact with former EADS vice president Jean-Louis Gergorin, a key player in the scandal who has admitted to leaking the false Clearstream list to investigators in 2004.
"I knew that Jean-Louis Gergorin was in contact with Dominique de Villepin and that the conspiracy against Nicolas Sarkozy was planned with Dominique de Villepin's knowledge," said Lahoud.
Responding to the revelations described as a "small bombshell" by the newspaper, Villepin's lawyer Olivier Metzner noted that Lahoud's deposition took place in December, a month after the case was closed and sent to trial.
"It is rather odd to take such interest in the testimony of a man who often changes his story," Metzner said.
The trial before a Paris criminal court is shaping up as a clash between Sarkozy loyalists and supporters of Villepin, who was former president Jacques Chirac's protege -- within France's ruling right-wing UMP party.
If convicted, Villepin faces a sentence of up to five years in jail.
In the runup to his trial, Villepin has floated the idea of challenging Sarkozy for the party nomination for the 2012 presidential vote and has become one of his most vocal opponents. Sarkozy is a civil plaintiff in the case.
Villepin, Lahoud, Gergorin and two other defendants are to stand trial in the case, with hearing scheduled to last until October 21.