Villepin defends French diplomatic honour

14th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 14 (AFP) - Prime minister Dominique de Villepin of France said claims that two former high-ranking diplomats exploited the corruption-riddled UN Iraqi oil for food programme should not be allowed to sully the reputation of French democracy.

PARIS, Oct 14 (AFP) - Prime minister Dominique de Villepin of France said claims that two former high-ranking diplomats exploited the corruption-riddled UN Iraqi oil for food programme should not be allowed to sully the reputation of French democracy.

Both men, including France's former ambassador to the UN, have been placed under judicial investigation -- the first stage toward possible charges -- on suspicion of benefitting from Iraqi money.

"That there may have been conduct here and there that was more than reproachable, well, obviously that's up to the justice (system) to say," he told Europe 1 radio in an interview.

"What I want to say, having been responsible for French diplomacy, is that no one has the right to sully that diplomacy so easily."

The oil-for-food programme, which ran from 1996 to 2003, was designed to offset the effects on ordinary people of international sanctions on Saddam Hussein's regime, allowing him to sell oil in return for food and medicines.

But it was thoroughly corrupted by Baghdad, which granted oil vouchers to foreign personalities deemed to be well-disposed to the regime.

Earlier this week Jean-Bernard Mérimée, 68, France's ambassador on the UN security council from 1991 to 1995, was placed under judicial investigation by judge Philippe Courroye on suspicion of profiting from Iraq.

Last month Serge Boidevaix, 77, a former number two at the French foreign ministry, was placed under investigation on a similar count.

Both are accused of "influence-peddling" and "active corruption of foreign officials."

Villepin, a former foreign minister, said the claims concerned "a period where the two ambassadors in question were no longer in office, they had retired, so they were activities conducted after the retirement age."

"They need to explain what happened," he added, "but I don't think you can cast a stain on French diplomacy."

Villepin was France's foreign minister when the US-led war on Iraq, which Paris strongly opposed, broke out in 2003.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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