Villepin officially not a Clearstream 'suspect'

4th December 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 2, 2006 (AFP) - After months of speculation about his role in a tangled dirty tricks scandal, France's embattled prime minister Dominique de Villepin got a reprieve Saturday with the announcement he will be quizzed as a mere witness in the so-called Clearstream affair.

PARIS, Dec 2, 2006 (AFP) - After months of speculation about his role in a tangled dirty tricks scandal, France's embattled prime minister Dominique de Villepin got a reprieve Saturday with the announcement he will be quizzed as a mere witness in the so-called Clearstream affair.

The status of "simple witness" being accorded to Villepin — on line with that of other politicians questioned in the scandal — means he is not being treated as a suspect in a case centering on bogus allegations of illegal accounts held at a Luxembourg clearing-bank.

The prime minister has been accused of using the affair to damage his political rival and presidential contender, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy

A more serious demand by investigating judges to question Villepin as an "assisted witness", or to place him under formal investigation, may have led to his resignation.

"The prime minister welcomes the opportunity to testify rapidly and he has complete confidence in the justice system to reach the truth in this affair,"

Villepin's office said Saturday, predicting the go-ahead for his interview would be given at the next cabinet meeting Wednesday.

He could be questioned by the end of this month, officials say.

The judges said in November that "an interview does indeed appear useful for elucidating the truth and will take place at the moment we judge to be opportune."

For their part, Villepin's aides argue the prime minister welcomes the chance to speak to judges Jean-Marie d'Huy and Henri Pons to give his side of events. "There are no questions I cannot answer," is Villepin's response.

It will only be the second time in history that a serving prime minister testifies in a judicial investigation. Socialist Lionel Jospin was quizzed some 15 years ago over illegal funding for his party.

The Clearstream affair erupted in April and for a time appeared to threaten Villepin's future as prime minister. Even today, it may further erode his popularity, analysts say, which took a beating during massive spring demonstrations against an unpopular youth jobs law.

Villepin has vehemently denied that as foreign minister in early 2004 he ordered a secret probe into claims that Sarkozy was on a list of names of alleged account-holders at Clearstream.

D'Huy and Pons have already questioned as witnesses Villepin's predecessor as prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, and current Defense Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

 


 

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