Villepin faces censure motion over Clearstream

15th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 14, 2006 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin faces another tough week ahead fending off questions over the so-called Clearstream dirty tricks scandal, with the National Assembly set to debate a no confidence motion Tuesday tabled by the Socialist opposition.

PARIS, May 14, 2006 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin faces another tough week ahead fending off questions over the so-called Clearstream dirty tricks scandal, with the National Assembly set to debate a no confidence motion Tuesday tabled by the Socialist opposition.

However, the prime minister — who has been accused of lying over claims he ordered a secret enquiry into archrival Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy — received unexpected support Sunday from the veteran spy-master who looked into allegations of hidden foreign bank accounts.

General Philippe Rondot, whose leaked sworn testimony has provided the most damning evidence against Villepin, angrily attacked the two judges leading the Clearstream investigation and said his words had been distorted in order to "blacken the president of the Republic and Dominique de Villepin."

Speaking to Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper Rondot said he would refuse to speak further to the judges, who are trying to identify the mystery informant who launched the affair two years ago.

"Today I have no longer any faith in the judges' investigation. There have been too many leaks, too much manipulation, too many edited down versions of what I said or wrote," the 69 year-old retired intelligence chief said.

Le Monde newspaper has published long extracts of Rondot's evidence under oath, which appeared to suggest that in January 2004 Villepin acted under President Jacques Chirac's authority to order a secret enquiry into allegations against Sarkozy.

Villepin has repeatedly denied naming Sarkozy as a target of any enquiry, and he received backing from Rondot who in the Sunday newspaper interview said that there had been "no fixation with Sarkozy" and that Villepin had "acted in good faith."

A highly complex tale of espionnage, defence deals and malicious libel, the Clearstream affair became public in mid 2004 when a judge investigating illegal commissions paid in the sale of warships to Taiwan received lists of alleged account-holders at the Clearstream bank of Luxembourg.

The list turned out to be bogus, and Sarkozy — whose name appeared alongside several other politicians and business leaders — believes he was the victim of a smear campaign ahead of the 2007 presidential election in which he is a frontrunner.

Friends of the interior minister and ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) chief have accused Villepin and Chirac — whose poor relations with Sarkozy are well-known — of seeking to exploit the allegations for their own political ends.

With the government plunging in the polls, UMP deputies are furious at the spectacle of paralysis and internecine warfare which is boosting support for the opposition Socialist Party (PS) and the far-right National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Sarkozy has come under strong pressure to resign and start campaigning for next year's election as a critical outsider, but on Saturday he said he would stay in government because he did not wish to "add crisis to crisis."

On Tuesday the National Assembly will debate the PS's censure motion, whose text begins: "Our country is going through one of the worst crises of the Fifth Republic."

Villepin was expected to come under heated questioning, but there was no chance of the opposition winning the debate as the UMP has a large overall majority. Some commentators said the motion could even help Villepin by providing a moment for the UMP to rally together.

In his interview Rondot said he believed the origin of the Clearstream lists was Jean-Louis Gergorin, 60 year-old vice-president of the European defence and aerospace company EADS. A respected foreign affairs specialist, Gergorin took leave of absence last week from EADS to defend himself.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article