AFP - A French court trying former prime minister Dominique de Villepin heard a defendant admit Wednesday that he added President Nicolas Sarkozy's name to a fake list of people taking bribes.
Imad Lahoud, a computer expert who is also facing charges in the smear scandal, told the Paris criminal court that he added the names Stephane Bosca and Paul de Nagy -- Sarkozy's Hungarian patronymic names -- to the bogus list.
"I did it and today I bitterly regret this and ask for forgiveness," said Lahoud, who took the stand on the third day of the trial.
Villepin, Lahoud and three others are on trial for allegedly taking part in a plot to slander Sarkozy in 2004 and derail his bid for the presidency.
Villepin and Sarkozy were at the time locked in a fierce battle for the nomination of their right-wing party to succeed president Jacques Chirac.
Lahoud said he added Sarkozy's name at the request of Jean-Louis Gergorin, a former vice president at aerospace giant EADS and close Villepin associate who is also on trial.
But Gergorin took the stand and accused Lahoud of lying.
"Everything that Lahoud is saying is false, everything is fabricated," he said.
The case centres on the list -- later found to have been fabricated -- of account holders at the Clearstream financial clearing house in Luxembourg who allegedly took bribes from the sale of French warships to Taiwan.
Sarkozy has registered as a civil plaintiff in the case, saying he wants the trial to reveal the truth about the bogus list and how his name ended up on it.
The Clearstream trial has become a new clash between Villepin and Sarkozy, whose mutual hatred is legendary in French political circles.
But the month-long hearings could also cast light on the murky dealings of French intelligence and at top aerospace company EADS.
The 55-year-old Villepin denies any wrongdoing and launched a verbal attack against Sarkozy on the opening day of the trial, accusing him of subverting French justice.
Villepin faces up to five years in jail and a 45,000-euro (66,000-dollar) fine if convicted.
The trial is scheduled to run until October 23 and judges are expected to take several months to reach a verdict.