French President François Hollande hit back Thursday at comments made by his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy in which he compared the court-ordered wiretapping of his phones with East Germany's Stasi secret police.
Sarkozy made the reference to the feared communist-era secret police in a strongly worded piece for French daily Le Figaro, in which he broke his long silence on mounting corruption claims against him that are undermining his chance of a possible political comeback.
“This is not an excerpt from the marvellous film ‘The Lives of Others’ about East Germany and the Stasi’s activities,” he wrote.
“These are not the actions of some world dictator taken against his opponents. This is France.”
That earned a stern rebuke from Hollande, the Socialist who in 2012 elections defeated Sarkozy and took over France's presidency.
"To raise the idea that our country, our republic, might not be founded on liberty is to introduce a doubt that is baseless," he said.
"Any comparison with dictatorships is obviously intolerable."
Hollande - while saying he "will not respond" to any row - added that he had a duty as head of state to uphold the independence of the courts and due process under the law.
Sarkozy slams ‘politically motivated’ leaks
Sarkozy has been dogged by a string of corruption scandals since leaving office, including allegations that he received illegal financing from both L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt and former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi during his first presidential campaign in 2007.
There were further allegations in the press this month that he attempted to pervert the course of justice - information reportedly gleaned from excerpts of tapped phone conversations with his lawyer.
Sarkozy, a member of the right-wing UMP Party had been widely seen as positioning himself for a return bid for the presidency in 2017.
But the publication this week of more detailed extracts of the taped conversations has been seen by many to be the final nail in the coffin of his comeback ambitions.
With characteristic combativeness, though, Sarkozy came out swinging.
"I think it is now my duty to break this silence. If I do this, it is because the sacred principles of our republic are trampled on with unheard of violence and with an unprecedented absence of qualms," Sarkozy wrote in his piece for Le Figaro.
He slammed the leaks as politically motivated, rejected several corruption cases against him and denied any desire to return to politics.
"Who handed over these documents when no lawyer has access to the procedure? The only people who hold (the documents) are judges or policemen... Are they above laws and judicial secrecy?" he asked of the phone tap leaks to newspaper Le Monde and the Mediapart website.
He also threw doubt on claims by the justice and interior ministers that they did not know about the phone taps. "Who are we kidding?"
Sarkozy’s words drew sharp reactions from others in Hollande's administration.
Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said she had "no intention of accepting the insults" regarding the propriety of judges.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also denounced Sarkozy's attack on judges and police as a "serious moral mistake".
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-03-21