Potential Clearstream smoking gun uncovered

11th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 11, 2006 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac was further drawn into a dirty tricks scandal rocking the French government Thursday, with the publication of leaked evidence showing he knew of a secret enquiry into his political rival Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

PARIS, May 11, 2006 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac was further drawn into a dirty tricks scandal rocking the French government Thursday, with the publication of leaked evidence showing he knew of a secret enquiry into his political rival Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

Le Monde newspaper printed excerpts of hand-written notes kept by spy-master Philippe Rondot, which it said "demolish" denials by Chirac and his ally Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin that they ordered an investigation into Sarkozy's alleged secret bank accounts.

Chirac on Wednesday denounced the "dictatorship of rumour" surrounding the so-called Clearstream affair, which has plunged his centre-right government into torment over claims of an internecine smear campaign.

But Villepin's political future remains on a knife-edge after he was accused of lying before parliament over the affair and the Socialist opposition stepped up calls for his resignation.

According to Le Monde's leaks, Chirac was directly involved in ordering Rondot to look into the allegations against Sarkozy in January 2004, and both he and Villepin were aware of the political dangers if Rondot's enquiry was made public.

"Protect the president," and "Risk: that the PR (president) be damaged" were written several times in Rondot's notes, Le Monde reported. And in July 2004, the spy-chief quoted Villepin as saying: "If we appear, the president and me, we're done for."

Rondot — who at the time answered to Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie — also noted that "she took it very badly that the president decided I should take on the operation directly without answering to her."

Villepin — who was foreign minister in early 2004 — has repeatedly denied acting under Chirac's instructions to tell Rondot to look into allegations against Sarkozy.

The allegations — which also targeted other politicians and business leaders — turned out to be fabricated, and Sarkozy believes he was the victim of a bid to blacken his name ahead of the 2007 presidential election, for which he is a leading candidate.

Sarkozy's entourage says that Chirac and Villepin became aware of the claims in early 2004 and instead of handing the matter to the judiciary launched their own secret investigation to see if the charges against their political foe would stick.

A murky and complex affair that has its origins in claims of money-laundering in the sale of French warships to Taiwan, the Clearstream scandal has cast an odour of corruption and backroom scheming over the start of Chirac's last year in office.

The story began in mid-2004 with a mystery informant sending a judge a letter and CD-ROM bearing a bogus list of personalities who allegedly benefited from illegal commissions in the warship sale paid via the Luxembourg clearing bank Clearstream.

On Thursday strong evidence emerged that the identity of the informant was the vice-president of the European defence and aerospace company EADS, Jean-Louis Gergorin, a high-flying foreign affairs specialist who has known Villepin for 25 years.

Gergorin, who took leave of absence from EADS Wednesday in order to defend himself against the mounting allegations, met judge Renaud van Ruymbeke in mid 2004 and told him he had secret information, including a list of Clearstream account-holders, according to newspaper reports.

Van Ruymbeke on Thursday denied reports that he then arranged with Gergorin to have the list sent anonymously.

There was widespread speculation that Gergorin may have concocted the list originally as part of an internal turf-war raging inside EADS, and later added the names of politicians in order to interest Villepin and Chirac.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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