An unpleasant election campaign turned even nastier and more confusing yesterday. After days of making baseless accusations of his own, President Nicolas Sarkozy claimed that he was the "victim" of a smear plot by the Socialist front-runner, François Hollande.
A left-leaning investigative website published a six-year-old Libyan intelligence document at the weekend which suggested that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had helped to fund Mr Sarkozy's run for the presidency in 2007. In a frantic day of allegations, denials and denials-of-denials, Mr Sarkozy cried "infamy" and political "manipulation".
He said that story had been inspired by Mr Hollande's campaign as a "diversion". The website, Mediapart, insisted that the 2006 document, authorising a payment of €50m (£40.7m) to Mr Sarkozy's campaign, was genuine and the fruit of months of journalistic investigation. But the former Libyan official to whom the document was addressed, now living in Paris, cast doubt on its authenticity.
The President trails Mr Hollande by eight to 10 points in opinion polls before the second round of the presidential election on 6 May. Mr Sarkozy has teetered on the edge of hysteria in campaign meetings and TV appearances in recent days, implying or even stating that Mr Hollande is the candidate of Islam.
One of France's richest men, François Pinault, the owner of Christie's, suggested in comments in Le Monde yesterday that Mr Sarkozy was behaving like Hitler "in his bunker in 1945". Several other figures on the moderate right of French politics have also distanced themselves from Mr Sarkozy's efforts to capture the 17.9 per cent of voters who supported the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, in the first round last Sunday.
As if that was not enough, the political ghost of Dominique Strauss-Kahn returned over the weekend to haunt his former Socialist colleagues and President Sarkozy alike. Once again, there were confusing allegations and counter-allegations.
On Saturday, The Guardian carried an interview with Mr Strauss-Kahn by an American investigative journalist, Edward Jay Epstein. The former IMF chief and one-time Socialist presidential front-runner was quoted as saying that forces "close to Mr Sarkozy" had manipulated legal events to destroy his political career after his disputed sexual encounter with a chambermaid in a New York hotel room last May.
Yesterday, Mr Strauss-Kahn issued a statement in Paris saying he had never given an interview to Mr Epstein – or at least not one intended for publication in a newspaper..
In a speech in Clermont-Ferrand on Saturday night, Mr Sarkozy attempted to turn Mr Strauss-Kahn's accusations into an embarrassment for Mr Hollande. He said Mr Strauss-Kahn – the man the Socialists had "really" wanted to be President – should have the "decency to shut his mouth" or to talk only to investigators and lawyers.
Mr Strauss-Kahn did embarrass some of his former Socialist colleagues on Saturday night. He turned up at a birthday party for a Socialist member of parliament attended by several Hollande campaign dignitaries, including the former presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal.
Ms Royal left the Paris restaurant rather than be seen or photographed with Mr Strauss-Kahn.