French smear trial hears of Al-Qaeda trick

24th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

A defendant in the trial over an alleged plot to smear President Nicolas Sarkozy testified on Tuesday that he handed over bank account information after being told it would be used to fight Al Qaeda.

The trial opened on Monday with former prime minister Dominique de Villepin in the dock for allegedly plotting to slander Sarkozy in 2004 when the two were rivals for the French presidency.

Four other defendants face charges including former auditor Florian Bourges who told the Paris court on Tuesday that he had been duped into believing he was helping out French intelligence when he handed over Clearstream bank data.

Investigators say the data was later used to draw up a fake list of account holders at the Clearstream financial clearing house in Luxembourg who allegedly took bribes from the sale of French warships to Taiwan.

One name on the bogus list was that of Sarkozy, who was then France's ambitious finance minister, and who suspected Villepin of planning to use the fake document to wreck his presidential bid.

During his testimony, 31-year-old Bourges recounted a September 2003 meeting with Imad Lahoud, a computer expert also on trial and suspected of falsifying the list.

Bourges, who had audited Clearstream accounts as an Arthur Andersen employee, said he allowed Lahoud to copy raw data from his audit onto his USB key.

"I was naive, you could even say stupid," Bourges told the court.

"He told me he worked for the DGSE," France's foreign intelligence agency, and was "doing research into Al Qaeda financing," he said.

Bourges is accused of stealing the Clearstream documents and giving them to Lahoud as well as journalist Denis Robert, another defendant in the case.

The so-called Clearstream trial features a Who's Who of big names in French politics, industry and intelligence circles, beginning with Sarkozy, who is a civil plaintiff in the case.

Sarkozy has said he wants the trial to reveal the truth about the bogus list and how his name ended up on it.

The 55-year-old Villepin, who denies any wrongdoing, faces up to five years in jail and a EUR 45,000 (USD 66,000) fine if convicted.

The trial is scheduled to run until 23 October and judges are expected to take several months to reach a verdict.


0 Comments To This Article