De Villepin to face court over 'plot to smear Sarkozy'

The former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin has been ordered to stand trial for his role in an alleged plot to smear Nicolas Sarkozy, now president, when they were rival ministers.

M. de Villepin has consistently denied wrongdoing in the case, dubbed the "Clearstream Affair", in which he has been accused of trying to torpedo M. Sarkozy's reputation with faked documents before the 2007 presidential election which M. Sarkozy won. "Nothing justifies this decision to go to trial,"

M. de Villepin said in a statement after it was disclosed he had been charged with "complicity in libel". The trial is expected to begin in 2010 and reopen one of the more poisonous events in the era of the former president Jacques Chirac. It will pick through a murky tale worthy of a modern-day Alexandre Dumas, featuring spies, secret bank accounts and subterfuge.

As well as untangling details of the case, it will highlight the bitter rivalry between M. de Villepin and his former interior minister M. Sarkozy as the two vied to succeed M. Chirac.