Sarkozy may quit as Chirac role in scandal is revealed - Europe - World - The Independent

Sarkozy may quit as Chirac role in scandal is revealed

M. Sarkozy, the Interior Minister and the likely centre-right candidate in next year's presidential election, is said to be close to a decision to resign and turn his guns on the President and Prime Minister.

The most recent leaks to the press from a criminal inquiry by two magistrates suggest that - despite several denials - M. Chirac took a close and personal interest in a secret, unorthodox investigation of M. Sarkozy's alleged financial dealings in 2004. The allegations against M. Sarkozy, then emerging as a rival to M. Chirac for the leadership of the centre-right, rapidly proved to be bogus.

It emerged yesterday that M. Villepin demanded a second, secret investigation by one of the French intelligence services in the summer of 2004, even though the corruption allegations had already been shown to be an elaborate plot.

M. Villepin faces a confidence vote in the National Assembly next Tuesday. Many centre-right deputies would like to see the Prime Minister sacked before then.

If M. Chirac forces his parliamentary troops to support M. Villepin, he faces the likelihood of a dramatic exit from the government by M. Sarkozy. The French centre-right would then be publicly split down the middle less than a year before the presidential elections.

In a further bizarre development, another investigating magistrate has admitted that he knew all along the identity of the source of the bogus corruption allegations in 2004, implicating M. Sarkozy and scores of other political and business figures. The judge, Renaud Van Ruymbeke, had previously insisted that the information came to him in letters and a CD-rom, from a corbeau (crow), or whistle-blower.

He has admitted to two other investigating judges, Jean-Marie d'Huy and Henri Pons, that he knew that the source of the information was Jean-Louis Gergorin, a senior executive at EADS, the company which makes the European Airbus, and a friend and former boss of M. Villepin. Judge Van Ruymbeke now faces investigation and a possible legal sanction.

The affair involves all the traditional ingredients of a French political scandal: misuse of the intelligence services; rivalries within the defence procurement industry; and poisonous hatreds between colleagues within the government.

Coming on top of the suburban riots last autumn, the street protests against a new employment law, and the rejection of the proposed European Union constitution, the so-called "Clearstream Affair" threatens to snap the final threads of patience of the French electorate with M. Chirac. Worse, it threatens to compound the cynicism of centre-right voters towards the ruling class and pile up votes for the far right in next year's elections.

The affair takes its name from Clearstream International, a clearing bank in Luxembourg, which was alleged in 2003-04 to hold undeclared accounts for up to 100 political and business figures in France and members of the intelligence services. The information, sent to Judge Van Ruymbeke in May and June 2004, proved to be false, using real bank account numbers and trumped-up names.

A year ago, two judges were appointed to investigate the deliberate attempt to blacken the name of M. Sarkozy and the others. In March of this year, they discovered that, in January 2004 - four months before the allegations were sent to Judge Van Ruymbeke - the same bogus lists of Clearsteam bank accounts were at the centre of an unofficial and unorthodox investigation requested secretly by M. Villepin, the then foreign minister.

Testimony to the judges by the intelligence officer charged with this secret investigation, General Philippe Rondot, has been comprehensively leaked to the French press in the past two weeks. The general's testimony suggests that he was asked to investigate the political implications of the lists of offshore accounts, and especially the involvement of M. Sarkozy.

Both M. Chirac and M. Villepin have repeatedly denied that they conducted an investigation into M. Sarkozy. M. Chirac has said that he had no knowledge of the investigation at all.

The French newspaper Le Monde has published details of comprehensive notes kept by the general and seized from his home by the investigating judges in April.

They suggest repeatedly that the "PR" (President of the Republic) had asked for, and was closely following, the general's investigation. At one point, they quote "DVP" (Dominique de Villepin) as saying that he and the "PR" would "be blown up" if their role in the investigation ever came out.

There is no evidence that M. Chirac and M. Villepin initiated the apparent plot to smear M. Sarkozy. They stand accused of seizing on the bogus information, making improper use of intelligence services, pursuing the false allegations and trying to ensure they were leaked to the press.

Constitution prevents investigation of President

The French President Jacques Chirac cannot be directly investigated for his alleged role in the Clearstream "smear" scandal or any of the other scandals with which he has been linked since he was elected 11 years ago.

Under a legally binding interpretation of the French constitution, issued by a constitutional watchdog in 1997, no President of the Republic can be tried, or even investigated, while in office. M. Chirac could, however, face investigation for this, and the other affairs, if he leaves office without standing again next spring, as now seems likely. All the other allegations concern irregular use of public money, or kick-backs on public contracts, to finance his presidential ambitions while he was mayor of Paris in the period between 1977 and 1995.

However, the suggestion, often seen in foreign media, that M. Chirac may face jail when he leaves office is far-fetched. The kind of allegations made against him are likely to take many years to come to court and, if proved, result, at most, in a fine and a suspension from politics. M. Chirac is 73.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week