Sarkozy takes role of 'victim' in Clearstream investigation

9th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 9, 2006 (AFP) - Interior Minister and ruling party chief Nicolas Sarkozy was interviewed for two hours Tuesday by judges investigating the bogus corruption allegations that have rocked the French government.

PARIS, May 9, 2006 (AFP) - Interior Minister and ruling party chief Nicolas Sarkozy was interviewed for two hours Tuesday by judges investigating the bogus corruption allegations that have rocked the French government.

Sarkozy was questioned in his capacity as civil plaintiff in the so-called Clearstream affair, in which he believes he was the target of a top-level smear campaign.

"I was received in my role as victim. I told (the judges) that I want the truth and I have every confidence they will find it," Sarkozy said at the end of the meeting.

The minister's name was on a list of alleged account-holders at the Luxembourg-based Clearstream bank which was sent by a mystery informant in 2004 to a judge looking into irregularities in the sale of French warships to Taiwan.

The list turned out to be bogus and Sarkozy believes he was the victim of an attempt to blacken his name ahead of next year's presidential election, for which he is a leading candidate.

The affair has badly damaged Sarkozy's main political rival, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who has been accused of setting up a secret enquiry into the claims against Sarkozy on the instructions of President Jacques Chirac.

Villepin has vigorously denied the charge, which was based on the leaked sworn testimony of a top intelligence official. But last week the opposition Socialist Party (PS) as well as the normally pro-government Le Figaro newspaper accused him of lying.

With the prime minister's popularity sinking to new lows, there was heated speculation over the weekend that Chirac would bow to pressure to remove him — replacing him possibly with Sarkozy.

However this was scotched in a statement from the Elysée palace, and Villepin himself appeared determined to brave the storm, telling senators from the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) Tuesday that "the proper response to these attacks is truth and justice."

Gleeful at an unhoped-for stroke of political fortune, the PS kept up its attacks, pledging to introduce a no-confidence motion before the National Assembly unless Chirac reshuffles the government.

A senior aide to Sarkozy — former minister François Fillon — also stepped up pressure on Villepin, hinting strongly that the prime minister exploited the Clearstream affair for his own presidential ambitions.

"Someone used irregular means to try to disqualify Nicolas Sarkozy from the race for the Elysée, someone who it seems had little sense of ethics and doubted his personal capacity to take him on in a fair contest," Fillon told France Inter radio.

"Either the prime minister can produce irrefutable proof that the whole affair was a fabrication and that he had no hand in it, or the president must draw the consequences and change prime minister.

"One cannot run a government with this kind of doubt weighing on one. The suspicion does not weigh on the government but on an individual," Fillon said.

Rumours that Sarkozy could be named as prime minister during Chirac's last year in office are viewed with mixed feelings by his entourage, who fear the job would hinder his chances of winning the 2007 election.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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