PARIS — President Sarkozy was the victim of a smear campaign by his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, and a former prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, new evidence suggested yesterday.
The alleged plot was directed against Mr. Sarkozy when he was interior minister in 2004, at a time when his two superiors were desperate to quash his presidential ambitions.
The fresh evidence, recovered by computer experts from the hard disc of a laptop belonging to a retired spymaster, could lead to Mr. de Villepin being placed under official investigation.
It also stood to further tarnish Mr. Chirac's legacy, even though he cannot be questioned about the case because he was president when the events took place.
Mr. de Villepin has always strenuously denied any wrongdoing in the murky so-called Clearstream affair. However, the files, leaked to the press yesterday, suggest that he personally ordered a forged list of illicit offshore bank accounts, on which Mr. Sarkozy's name figured, to be sent to an investigating magistrate.
The Clearstream list, from a Luxembourg clearing bank of that name, included politicians and businessmen suspected of receiving illicit kickbacks from the 1991 sale of French warships to Taiwan. It was found to have been doctored and Mr. Sarkozy's name added to it.
The recovered files belonged to General Philippe Rondot, a senior figure in the French intelligence service who Mr. de Villepin — then foreign minister — had allegedly ordered to conduct a secret investigation into the Clearstream list without informing Mr. Sarkozy.
Last year, Jean-Louis Gergorin, a businessman and old friend of Mr. de Villepin, confirmed sending the list to judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke in May 2004.
Mr. de Villepin has repeatedly denied having a hand in compiling or disseminating the list. However, in the computer notes leaked yesterday, General Rondot quotes an intelligence source as saying that Mr. Gergorin "had received instructions from Dominique de Villepin, formulated by the president of the Republic [Mr. Chirac], to ‘spill the beans' on Nicolas Sarkozy."
Another entry clearly states that Mr. Gergorin had contacted the judge after "receiving instructions from Dominique de Villepin eight days previously." General Rondot continues: "I note that this affair is taking a political turn and threatens to become dangerous."
If the list is fabricated, he writes, "the head of state will be put into question for allowing to develop or even encourage, through Dominique de Villepin, a campaign targeting possible competitors."
Questioned by judges last week, General Rondot also confirmed that Mr. de Villepin had told him: "If we appear, le PR [the president] and I, we are done for." "Those were [his] own words," he said.
In yet another recovered note, the general said Mr. Gergorin had told him Mr. de Villepin "had appeared both jubilatory" at sending the list to the judge "but above all concerned not to appear in the scenario."
Hours after the allegations appeared in the press yesterday, investigators conducted a search of Mr. de Villepin's home. But in a statement, the former prime minister dismissed the "unfounded accusations" and asked the judges to accord him an "assisted witness" status — one step short of being under investigation — so that he could see the evidence being compiled against him.
Mr. de Villepin said he had "not sought to investigate nor compromise any political personality" in this affair of "calumnious denunciation" and asked for "the right to defend himself and bring out the truth." The Clearstream affair, coupled with nationwide demonstrations against his youth job scheme, effectively ended Mr. de Villepin's political career. He stepped down as prime minister when Mr. Sarkozy took office last month.
The Daily Telegraph