<i>J'accuse!</i> Ségol&egrave;ne Royal links Sarkozy 'clan' with break-in at apartment

Click to follow

A vitriolic political row has exploded in France after the defeated presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, accused President Sarkozy's "clan" of being "linked" to a break-in at her flat.

Mme Royal's words, on the main nightly news programme of the state-owned television channel France 2, came close to a direct accusation of a "Ségogate" – a break-in at the home of a senior opposition leader inspired by the President.

Her comments were immediately dismissed by politicians close to M. Sarkozy who said they were the result of a "martyr complex". The Prime Minister, François Fillon, said it was "absolutely shameful" to make accusations against the President, "without any shred of proof".

However, senior opposition figures sprang to Mme Royal's defence. Jean-Marc Ayrault, the leader of the Socialist group in the lower house of parliament, said that President Sarkozy's 14 months in power had created a "climate" which "recalled the most unpleasant periods of French political history". Once such a climate is created, he said, "anything can happen".

Mme Royal's apartment, in the quiet suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, just outside Paris, was broken into just under two weeks ago. Her flat was also burgled during her campaign to become the first woman president of France in the spring of last year. On both occasions, nothing appeared to have been stolen.

On France 2's nightly news programme on Tuesday night, Mme Royal said she believed that there was a "link" between the break-in on 27 June and her accusation the previous day that the President's wealthy friends were mounting a "take-over" of France. This followed a decision by M. Sarkozy to ban advertising from state-owned television – potentially increasing by €450m (£360m) annually the revenue of commercial television channels owned, or controlled, by his close friends.

"I observe that on the day after I said that it was time to halt the Sarkozy clan's take-over of France, my home was ransacked," Mme Royal told astonished viewers. "I make a link between the two events." When was asked if she was "making an accusation" against the "forces in power", she replied: "It's a bizarre coincidence... This is the second time my apartment has been ransacked.

"I am the only politician to denounce strongly the moves being made to undermine the state television services... There is a kidnapping going on, a robbery of the advertising revenue on France 2 and France 3 to enrich M. Sarkozy's friends."

Mme Royal insisted on several occasions that the break-in should not be described as a "robbery" but as a "ransacking" intended to intimidate her.

M. Sarkozy's political allies queued up yesterday to dismiss the allegations as a symptom of "instability" or a need to draw attention. The Prime Minister, M. Fillon, said: "Mme Royal is losing control." The spokeswoman for M. Sarkozy's centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, Chantal Brunel, said : "Mme Royal is trying to paint herself as a martyr, persecuted by shadowy media-political forces. She has finally gone over the top."

Mme Royal, 54, is mounting a campaign to become the first secretary of the Parti Socialiste in October. She also hopes to install herself as the candidate to challenge President Sarkozy for a second time in 2012.

Like all opposition figures in France, she has had difficulty maintaining a strong media presence in the face of the frenetic activity of the President and – more recently – his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. She is – as centre-right politicians joyously sought to prove yesterday – potentially vulnerable to accusations of attention-seeking.

Mme Royal insisted, however, that she was motivated only by deep suspicion of M. Sarkozy's motives for turning the French television world on its head.

"I will bow to no intimidation in my attempts to prevent this dirty trick against the people of France," she said.

M. Sarkozy announced two weeks ago that advertising would be banned between 8pm and 6am on France 2 and France 3 from January. By December 2011, ads will be completely removed from the channels. He says this is intended to take the channels out of the race for ratings and make them "more like the BBC". He says he wants France 2 and France 3 to go upmarket and show, for instance, "operas in prime time". He has apparently not recently read the Radio Times.

Opponents of M. Sarkozy's plan fear that, with all television advertising revenue in decline, his real motive is to steer the available euros to the privately-owned channels controlled by his close friends.

President plans a French 'BBC'

Should France's state-owned television channels be more like the BBC? This is the reason being given by President Nicolas Sarkozy for banning advertisements from France 2 and 3.

M. Sarkozy says his plan would improve the quality of France 2 and 3 by removing commercial constraints on programming.

Banning ads on state-owned channels would also, however, mean that €450m (£360m), in annual advertising could potentially migrate to commercial channels, several of which are controlled by close friends of the President.

He proposes to replace the France 2 and 3 advertising revenue through a 0.9 per cent turnover tax on internet and mobile telephone businesses and a 3 per cent tax on commercial television advertising revenue. The head of France 2 and 3, Patrick de Carolis, says the President has "got his sums wrong" and that the plan would undermine, not improve, the quality of the channels.