Leading French police officers close to President Nicolas Sarkozy were accused yesterday of smearing senior colleagues suspected of left-wing sympathies.
According to the newspaper Le Monde, some of the most senior police officers in France have been questioned by examining magistrates after allegations of corruption brought against colleagues in 2007 turned out to have been manipulated or faked.
One of the officers questioned is the Paris police chief, Michel Gaudin, a close associate of Mr Sarkozy for many years. Others include the leader of the police squad that investigates alleged police wrongdoing.
Six independent, judicial investigations have been launched, according to Le Monde, into false allegations of corruption which destroyed the careers of five officers, including three senior police officers who were known or suspected to have political sympathies for the centre-left.
Criminal charges brought against four of the officers – for allegedly taking bribes to issue residence papers for rich foreigners – were thrown out as baseless last year.
The fifth, Yannick Blanc, once one of the most senior officers in France, was forced out of the police but never accused of a crime.
According to Le Monde, independent investigators now believe that the case against the three men and two women was built on faked witness statements and heavily edited transcripts of phone taps. The newspaper described the fake corruption investigation as an "unprecedented scandal" for a French police service facing two other inquiries into allegations of wrongdoing at senior levels.
The Paris police headquarters accused Le Monde of making "unfounded allegations" and said it would take the "appropriate legal action".
The main target of the alleged manipulation is said to have been Mr Blanc. In 2007 he was head of the general police service, which handles applications for residence permits, driving licences and other documents. Mr Sarkozy, then the Interior Minister and a presidential candidate, is said to have been incensed when Mr Blanc publicly contradicted his campaign claims about illegal immigration.
Mr Blanc was also one of the few senior police officers to declare his support for the Socialist candidate, Ségolène Royal.
The ex-police officer, who now works for the Socialist president of the greater Paris region, yesterday confirmed the broad outlines of Le Monde's story. "I have no proof that this was an organised political plot," Mr Blanc said.