Ex-premier testifies in Sarkozy smear trial

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The Independent Online

The former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin yesterday dismissed claims that he sought to smear the future president, Nicolas Sarkozy, in 2004.

Mr Villepin, who is on trial for "complicity in calumny and forgery", told a court he was never involved in a plot to ruin the career of his centre-right colleague and long-time rival.

The case centres on computer listings that surfaced in late 2003, purporting to show that hundreds of French public figures held illegal, offshore bank accounts with the Clearstream International bank in Luxembourg. The listings – including a thinly concealed reference to Mr Sarkozy – were shown by French security officials to have been faked.

In court yesterday, Mr Villepin suggested the "Clearstream affair" had been allowed to spin out of control in 2004 because the security services believed it might lead them to Osama bin Laden. He challenged written evidence that suggested he had displayed a "fixation" with Mr Sarkozy during his first meeting to discuss the affair when he was foreign minister in January 2004. The future president's name was scarcely mentioned on that occasion, Mr Villepin told the court.

The former premier also rejected allegations, made on oath by his co-defendants, that he had told them of "instructions" from President Jacques Chirac to pursue the affair. "There were never any presidential instructions in the Clearstream dossier and I never passed on any instructions [in the affair] from Jacques Chirac," he said. Mr Villepin is accused, not of faking the lists, but ensuring they were sent to a judge, knowing that they were forged. His co-defendant, a Lebanese IT expert, Imad Lahoud, is accused of faking the lists. Another defendant, Jean-Louis Gergorin, is accused of instructing Mr Lahoud to do so as part of a boardroom struggle within the aerospace company EADS.

Mr Villepin has previously suggested the affair was unnecessarily kept alive and manipulated by Mr Sarkozy.