Friends of Nicolas Sarkozy tried to leak a police report stating that the French President's former political rival, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was found having sex with a prostitute in a car in Paris in 2007, Le Monde reported yesterday.
The newspaper said that "people close to Mr Sarkozy" had attempted to leak details of the encounter in the months before the arrest of the Socialist presidential front-runner in New York on charges of attempted rape.
The revelation may relaunch some of the wilder conspiracy theories in France about "plots" by the Elysée Palace to trap Mr Strauss-Kahn. It will also reopen questions about how much the French media knew about the former International Monetary Fund chief's relations with women.
Le Monde said that several attempts had been made in the last few months by people close to Mr Sarkozy to persuade the newspaper to report on the prostitute incident. Le Monde was told by three separate sources that Mr Strauss-Kahn was found by police in a "compromising posture" with a prostitute in a car in western Paris.
The incident was alleged to have taken place in 2007, just before the last presidential election. Le Monde said it was decided at the time "at the highest level" to take no legal action against Mr Strauss-Kahn. The incident was reported in 2007 to Mr Sarkozy's entourage by his allies within the police and security services. Mr Sarkozy's presidential campaign decided, also "at the highest level", not to use the information, Le Monde said. Mr Strauss-Kahn had been defeated by Ségolène Royal in the Socialist primary in 2006 and was no longer a candidate in the election.
Later that same year – after he was elected President – Mr Sarkozy nominated Mr Strauss-Kahn as managing director of the IMF. In recent months, however, as Mr Strauss-Kahn rose in the opinion polls ahead of the 2012 presidential election, "people in Mr Sarkozy's confidence" began to boast to journalists that they had a "hold" on the IMF chief. "It was in this context that the [police note from 2007] resurfaced," Le Monde wrote.
Mr Strauss-Kahn was well aware that Mr Sarkozy's camp was spreading rumours about him. He is said to have told the French President to call off his "attack dogs".
Le Monde did not say in yesterday's article why it had declined to publish a story on the alleged incident. The decision was, however, in line with the policy of French mainstream media not to report on the private lives of public figures.
Ten days ago, Mr Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York and accused of sexually assaulting a chambermaid. Sources close to the investigation have revealed that traces of Mr Strauss-Kahn's DNA have been identified on a stained blouse which was worn by the chambermaid at the time of the alleged attack. Mr Strauss-Kahn's defence appears, however, to be moving towards a claim that he had consensual sex with the young woman.
Since his arrest, many French people have said that they believe that Mr Strauss-Kahn was the victim of a plot. Yesterday's revelations may bolster such theories.