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France

Sarkozy's name 'never came up' at pivotal meeting, says de Villepin

©

Video by Luke BROWN , FRANCE 3

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-10-05

Former French PM Dominique de Villepin testified in a Paris court on Wednesday that he knew nothing of the Clearstream affair before a January 9, 2004 meeting at the Foreign Ministry and that Sarkozy's name "never came up."

Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin appeared in court on Wednesday to testify on his role in the Clearstream scandal. He told judges that he had never heard of the Clearstream affair until a meeting on January 9, 2004, at the Foreign Ministry, of which he was head at the time. He added that Nicolas Sarkozy’s name “never came up” in the context of that discussion.

He told the judge, “I have been steadfast in difficult moments. I have never been in possession of the Clearstream lists, and I was never informed of the fraudulent nature of the Clearstream lists.”


January 9, 2004

 

According to de Villepin’s testimony, the January 9 meeting was when former EADS president Jean-Louis Gergorin informed Villepin of the existence of the lists.

 

General Philippe Rondot, who was working at the ministry of defence at the time, was also present at this meeting, which de Villepin described to the court as a “non work-oriented meeting.” De Villepin said he did not see the files at the meeting.

 

De Villepin said he later instructed Rondot to investigate the Clearstream client list, saying that he was acting on the “general instructions of the President of the Republic” (Jacques Chirac, at the time) to “raise the moral standards of international business.”

 

But, he said firmly, “Chirac never gave specific presidential instructions.”

 


De Villepin was equally adamant about the matter of Nicolas Sarkozy’s name. “At no time was Nicolas Sarkozy mentioned in connection with these lists,” he said, adding that Sarkozy was only mentioned in passing, as someone who should not be informed about the list.

 

The notes Rondot took at the meeting became material evidence in the case. They are widely thought to be damning and include the brief note “Political stakes, Sarkozy.”

 

Jean-Louis Gergorin, former executive VP of French corporation EADS, gave a different version of events from that of his former associate de Villepin. Gergorin is thought to have shown the list by his EADS accountant trainee, Imad Lahoud, and then to Villepin. Gergorin has already admitted to leaking the false Clearstream list.


Gergorin testified that, contrary to de Villepin’s claim of innocence, the two in fact had a number of clandestine meetings in 2004.


The court read aloud from May 2004 entries in Rondot’s notebook, wherein Rondot wrote that Gergorin had informed him of these meetings.


Lahoud also took to the stand, confirming his previous statements that Gergorin told him that he had received orders from de Villepin to “throw Sarkozy to a judge.”

 

He may already be finished

 

The crux of de Villepin’s innocence or guilt depends on whether he knew about the forgery, and whether he in fact gave the order to commit the forgery. During a brief interrogation in the court Tuesday he repeated that he “never had any idea of,” nor “held in [his] hands,” any falsified lists. If found guilty, he faces up to 5 years in prison and a ban from holding political office.

 

According to FRANCE 24’s Catherine Norris-Trent, who is covering the trial, “No one believes de Villepin will be sentenced to prison. He will most likely get a ban on holding office, which would be a major blow since he still had political ambitions.”

 

But even if the court did not sentence him at all, says Norris-Trent, the maximum damage has already been done to de Villepin. “Even more important than the verdict, if it can be proved he is lying, then his reputation will be ruined. People are saying that is what the prosecution is going for,” she said.

Date created : 2009-09-30

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