Chirac fends off claims of secret account in Japan

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The Independent Online

The waters of the Clearsteam "smear" scandal rose higher around the French Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, yesterday and began to lap at the feet of President Jacques Chirac.

As M. Chirac attacked the "dictatorship of rumour" that has surrounded hisprotégé, M. Villepin, leaks from the investigation suggested the President had a secret bank account in Japan that once contained Fr300m (£30m).

The claims come at a very awkward time for the President, when he and his Prime Minister. M. Villepin, are fending off claims they tried to destroy a political rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, by seizing on false allegations he had illegal bank accounts abroad.

Further leaks from the supposedly confidential investigation all but identified the man who sent false, anonymous information about M. Sarkozy. French newspapers reported that new testimony given to the judges investigating the affair strongly suggested that the corbeau (anonymous informant) was a close friend of M. Villepin - Jean-Louis Gergorin, a senior executive in EADS, the company that makes the European Airbus. M. Gergorin resigned yesterday. He has always denied being the source of the "smear" but the evidence comes from an irreproachable source: another investigating judge.

Other information, in testimony from a senior intelligence officer, revives long-standing rumours of Chirac bank accounts in Japan. According to the testimony leaked to the newspaper, Le Canard Enchainé, an intelligence officer, General Philippe Rondot, says he established M. Chirac had an account with Japan's Sowa bank, which once contained Fr300m, fed by a "charitable" association in France.