The nearly man of French politics put into Balkan hotseat

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François Léotard, the man chosen to be EU resident envoy in Macedonia, was once seen as a future French president, or at least prime minister.

His career on the centre-right of French politics foundered amid allegations of corruption and an accusation, since discredited, that he plotted the murder of a colleague.

Mr Léotard, 59, was Culture and Communications Minister from 1986 to 1988 and Defence Minister from 1993 to 1995. Since his resignation as president of the UDF, the federation of centre-right parties, in September 1998, he has adopted a relatively low profile but remains a member of parliament for the Var département on the Mediterranean coast.

For 10 years from the mid- 1980s, Mr Léotard seemed to be the rising but never quite risen star of the French centre-right. He was unable to emulate his centrist political mentor, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, and upstage the Gaullists in the shape of the Mayor of Paris – and now President of the Republic – Jacques Chirac.

His career as a frontline politician foundered after he chose to back Edouard Balladur, instead of Mr Chirac, as the centre-right's candidate for the presidency in 1995.

He faced accusations of financial wrongdoing, later dropped, such as the allegation that he used public money to build an extension to his villa when he was Mayor of Fréjus. In March 1998, he was accused in an investigative book of ordering the murder of a political colleague, Yann Piat, who was inquiring into political corruption in his fiefdom, the Var.

Mr Léotard sued and the book was withdrawn from circulation. He remains under criminal investigation for accepting a suspicious £500,000 loan from an Italian bank. Last year he published a book entitled I Gently Hate You All.