Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin will press charges against President Nicolas Sarkozy for violating his right to the presumption of innocence in the Clearstream case, de Villepin’s lawyer has announced.
AFP - French President Nicolas Sarkozy came under fire Thursday for describing ex-prime minister Dominique de Villepin and four others on trial for allegedly slandering him as "guilty".
Villepin's lawyer called the comment "scandalous" and said the former prime minister would file suit against Sarkozy for violating his right to presumption of innocence.
Opposition politicians said Sarkozy's remarks made on French television were a "revealing slip of the tongue" that showed he was not impartial in the case involving his long-time rival, Villepin.
"After a two-year investigation, two independent investigating judges ruled that the guilty parties should be tried before a criminal court," said Sarkozy during an interview Wednesday with French television.
Several politicians and lawyers said the comment was a blunder given that the justice system in France, like that in other major democracies, consider the accused innocent until proven guilty.
"Mister Sarkozy has declared in front of all of France that Mr de Villepin is guilty, because he was ordered to stand trial," said Villepin's lawyer Olivier Metzner.
"This is a scandalous violation of fundamental principles," said co-defence lawyer Henri Leclerc.
The so-called Clearstream trial opened Monday with Villepin and four others in the dock for allegedly taking part in a plot hatched in 2003-2004 to smear Sarkozy and torpedo his bid for the presidency.
Villepin and Sarkozy were at the time locked in a fierce struggle for the governing right-wing party's nomination to succeed president Jacques Chirac.
The case centres on a 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.
But Villepin's camp and politicians on the left have called on Sarkozy to pull out of the case, given his status as president.
"Mister Freud would say that this was a revealing slip, revealing of the ambiguity of Nicolas Sarkozy's position in this affair," said Francois Bayrou, leader of the centrist Democratic Movement (MoDem) party.
Sarkozy "is a civil plaintiff, that is he has filed a complaint as a victim and also the guarantor of justice, the prosecutors' top superior in the hierarchy," he said.
"This situation is abnormal and shouldn't be accepted in a republic that has principles," Bayrou told RTL radio.
"This was his subconscious speaking," said opposition Socialist deputy Pierre Moscovici, who called the comment "extremely shocking."
Former Socialist leader Francois Hollande said Sarkozy's choice of words was all the more disturbing because the president is a trained lawyer who understands the importance of using precise language.
The 55-year-old 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.
Date created : 2009-09-24