Villepin expects investigation over smear charges

11th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 10, 2007 (AFP) - Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin said Tuesday he expects to be placed under formal investigation over an alleged smear campaign against President Nicolas Sarkozy.

PARIS, July 10, 2007 (AFP) - Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin said Tuesday he expects to be placed under formal investigation over an alleged smear campaign against President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Investigating judges have carried out searches of Villepin's office and home in recent days as part of the inquiry into the so-called Clearstream scandal.

Villepin, who stepped down as prime minister two months ago, said in a statement that he has been summoned for questioning at the end of July and that the judges were planning to place him under formal investigation.

Villepin has strongly denied any involvement in alleged efforts in 2004 to defame Sarkozy and scupper his bid for the presidency.

A lawyer representing Villepin said he would face questioning on July 27. He was first interviewed by judges Jean-Marie d'Huy and Henri Pons in December when he faced 17 hours of questioning.

Villepin "reaffirms at this time that he acted strictly within the confines of his duties as foreign minister and interior minister and denies any involvement in this affair," said the statement.

A career diplomat, Villepin was prime minister under President Jacques Chirac for two years and had previously been foreign minister in 2002 and interior minister in 2004.

Investigators looking into the Clearstream affair searched Villepin's Paris home and offices last week, following up evidence from computer files that he encouraged the leaking of information in 2004 that falsely implicated Sarkozy in a financial scandal, justice officials said.

Sarkozy was at the time the interior minister and a rival of Villepin to become the presidential candidate of the ruling conservative party.

The scandal revolved around a fake list of account-holders at the Clearstream bank of Luxembourg who supposedly benefited from illegal commissions from arms sales to Taiwan.

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

The computer files suggested that Villepin may have tried to publicise the list to wreck Sarkozy's presidential hopes.

Chirac has refused to speak to the judges, arguing that in this matter he is still covered by presidential immunity.

Experts said that Villepin may also seek to contest the power of the judges to investigate offences linked to his duties as a minister.

Only the Court of Justice of the Republic can try ministers or former ministers over activities linked to their official functions. But if a court rules they were outside official duties the charges can be transferred to a criminal court.


Copyright AFP

SUbject: French news

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