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Who’s who in France’s ‘trial of the decade’

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-10-24

The Clearstream scandal has the dimensions of a political potboiler, consisting of high-profile figures from France’s executive and judicial branches, as well as the business and intelligence communities. FRANCE 24 looks at the main players.

The protagonists and antagonists in the Clearstream affair include French politicians, defence dealers, businessmen, judges, financial auditors, spooks, a mathematician and a reporter. A central prop in this complicated plot is a CD-ROM of a list of names that has since been shown to be fraudulent. It’s an unlikely mix in a scandal of unlikely proportions.


Dominique de Villepin: ‘The political protagonist’

A former French prime minister (2005 – 2007), he was, before that, a French interior minister (2004 – 2005). The opening salvo of the Clearstream drama was fired during his term as interior minister. De Villepin stands accused of “complicity in false accusation, complicity in using forgeries, receipt of stolen property and breach of trust”. He faces up to five years’ imprisonment. These allegations go back to 2004, when the then interior minister was reportedly shown a list of names of people allegedly holding secret bank accounts at Luxembourg-based clearing house, Clearstream. The accounts were supposedly linked to kickbacks on the sale of French frigates to Taiwan in 1991. Nicolas Sarkozy was one of the names featured on the list. De Villepin is accused of using this in a purported smear campaign to wreck Sarkozy’s political career and ruin his chances in the 2007 race to succeed Jacques Chirac as French president.

Florian Bourges: ‘The accountant’

A former intern at accounting firm Arthur Andersen, Bourges is accused of stealing the offending list from Clearstream and passing it on to investigative reporter Denis Robert.

Denis Robert: ‘The journalist’

The French journalist and writer is believed to be the first reporter to break the Clearstream story. He allegedly received the original list of names of people suspected of holding secret Clearstream accounts from the accountant/auditor Florian Bourges. Robert is alleged to either have handed the original auditing list to Imad Lahoud and/or introduced Imad Lahoud to Florian Bourges.

Imad Lahoud: ‘The mathematician’

A computer expert and mathematician, he is a former executive at the France-German aerospace giant EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company). Lahoud is suspected of receiving the list from Florian Bourges and subsequently doctoring it to include names, including Nicolas Sarkozy. He is alleged to have then burned the concocted version of the list on a CD-ROM, which he allegedly showed to his boss, Jean-Louis Gergorin. In a statement on oath in early 2009, Lahoud said that he had faked the CD-ROM to include, amongst other things, the reference to Nicolas Sarkozy at the request of his EADS boss, Jean-Louis Gergorin. The statement, which was leaked to a French weekly, said Lahoud believed Gergorin was part of a “cabal” against Sarkozy.

Jean-Louis Gergorin: ‘The Airbus man’

Gergorin is both a former executive at the Airbus holding company, EADS, and a former associate of Dominique de Villepin. He is believed to have been shown the list by his EADS employee, Imad Lahoud and then to de Villepin. Gergorin has admitted to leaking the false Clearstream list to investigators in 2004.


General Philippe Rondot – the man standing in the shadows

At the time of the Clearstream scandal, General Rondot was working at the French defense ministry in charge of coordinating the French intelligence services and overseas special operations. In May 2004 he was tasked by then Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin to conduct an investigation into the French political figures whose names appear on the Clearstream list. In 2005, notebooks in which Rondot recorded conversations and thoughts fell into the hands of the courts. These notes directly implicate the prime minister’s and presidential administrations.

Renaud Van Ruymbeke – the abused judge

In 2001, Van Ruymbeke was the judge presiding over the investigation into commissions paid after the sale of frigates to Taiwan. The case blew up in 2004 when Van Ruymbeke received anonymous letters and a CD ROM containing lists of accounts held by Clearstream. The list purported to show that various political figures, including presidential candidate President Nicolas Sarkozy, had received kick-backs from the sale of the frigates. Several months later, Van Ruymbeke came to the conclusion that he was being manipulated and that the lists were fakes. In May 2006, the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné alleged that Jean-Louis Gergorin, a top executive at European aerospace group EADS with links to the French government, had met Van Ruymbeke in 2004 to make ‘revelations.’ A month later Gergorin was placed under investigation on suspicion of making "libellous accusations".

ves Bertrand: ‘The diarist’

The former special police chief hit the headlines after investigators seeking documents to trace the origins of the smear campaign seized his diaries. Instead of revealing Clearstream clues, the diaries exposed the sexual peccadilloes of France’s political elites, which Bertrand noted during his years on the job – including on Sarkozy and his former wife, Cécilia. Bertrand himself alleges that Sarkozy is abusing his power to push the Clearstream affair as part of a vendetta or smear campaign against Dominique de Villepin.


There are 41 plaintiffs in the case, with current President Nicolas Sarkozy at the top of the list. Others include former Socialist Prime Minister Laurent Fabius and current IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Nicolas Sarkozy:  ‘The target’

The main plaintiff in the Clearstream case. The French president is at the heart of the Clearstream case, which he believes is an elaborate smear campaign to try to keep him out of the Elysee presidential palace following the 2007 expiration of Jacques Chirac’s term. His political rival, Dominique de Villepin is alleged to have been the brains behind the plot to destabilise him. This theory was opined by Imad Lahoud in 2006, when he claimed there was an anti-Sarkozy cabal led by de Villepin and then-president Jacques Chirac. Nicolas Sarkozy launched his own civil case in 2006, in which it was alleged he had been aware of the Clearstream case as far back as 2004, but had waited to ensure he could leverage the maximum political capital from it.

Date created : 2009-09-18