Villepin back in court over anti-Sarkozy 'smear plot'

The former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin went back on trial yesterday, accused of condoning a plot to discredit President Nicolas Sarkozy before the 2007 presidential election.

The trial may have an impact on next year's presidential contest, where the unpopular Mr Sarkozy is expected to seek a second term but faces a likely challenge from Mr Villepin, among others.

Mr Villepin, who has quit Mr Sarkozy's centre-right UMP party, was acquitted last year but has landed back in court after an appeal by public prosecutors.

At the heart of the so-called Clearstream trial was a forged list of names linking Mr Sarkozy among others to a corruption probe centred on secret Luxembourg bank accounts. Mr Villepin, Prime Minister from 2005 to 2007, is accused of doing nothing to stop the rumour mill when he knew the list was fake, making him an "accomplice by abstention" in the smear plot.