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Journalist who set ball rolling gives evidence

Video by Rebecca BOWRING

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-09-24

Denis Robert (pictured), the journalist who lit the touchpaper that ignited the Clearstream bomb, gives evidence Tuesday in a trial that has brought to a head a bitter rivalry between a former prime minister and France's current president.

Freelance journalist Denis Robert is in the witness box Tuesday at the Paris Criminal Court in a trial that has rocked the French political world to its core.

Robert will be questioned on the Clearstream files that came into his possession in 2001, before they were faked to include names of high-profile figures in French politics, including current French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who were accused of taking illegal kickbacks from the sale of French frigates to Taiwan in 1991.

Robert is accused of having handled stolen information and breach of trust.

Also giving evidence is a former intern at accounting firm Arthur Andersen Florian Bourges, who is accused of stealing the offending list from Clearstream and passing it on to Robert.

Bourges was part of an audit mission looking into the accounts at Clearstream just after Robert had investigated the company for possible money laundering.

During the audit Bourget noticed certain "anomalies”, specifically relating to accounts dated 2016 alongside names of non-existent clients. He was told to keep it to himself.

At the end of the audit, Bourges kept copies of accounts he had seen, including a list of more than 33,000 accounts which he passed on to Robert.
The case has exposed bitter acrimony between Dominique de Villepin, a former French prime minister, and current French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

De Villepin is accused of conspiring to include Sarkozy on the Clearstream list when the two men were vying for their party's nomination to succeed then-President Jacques Chirac.

Case being 'propelled by Sarkozy'

De Villepin, who vigorously denies the allegations, faces up to five years in jail and a €45,000 fine if convicted.

As the trial began on Monday, de Villepin, flanked by his wife and children, insisted that the case was being propelled by Sarkozy's personal animosity towards him.

"I am here because of one man's will," he said upon arriving at court. "I am here because of the dogged determination of one man, Nicolas Sarkozy."

"I will come out of this a free man and exonerated," he told reporters. "I know that truth will prevail."

President of the Republic as civil plaintiff

Lawyers for both sides are facing off over whether Sarkozy's involvement in the case is allowed under the French constitution.

De Villepin's lawyer, Henri Leclerc, has asked that the court strip Sarkozy of his status as a civil plaintiff, arguing that his client cannot get a fair trial against a sitting head of state.

"We want to be tried according to fair procedures," Leclerc said on Monday.

But Sarkozy's lawyer, Thierry Herzog, argues that the president is "a civil party like any other".  

Sarkozy registered as a plaintiff in 2006 to gain access to the case files and secure his right to seek damages, as have 39 others including Dominique Strauss-Kahn, now the head of the International Monetary Fund.

Sarkozy insists he only wants the truth to come out. "I've always said that I wanted to know who put my name on that list and why," he said earlier this month. "It is high time that we get rid of all of these political manoeuvrings, once and for all."


Date created : 2009-09-22