General's testimony piles pressure on de Villepin
General Philippe Rondot (pictured), whose infamous notebook is the central piece of evidence in the Clearstream trial, has contradicted former PM Dominique de Villepin's claim that he had no knowledge of forged Clearstream client lists.
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General Philippe Rondot, a key witness in the Clearstream trial, testified on Monday that former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin had been aware since January 2004 that Nicolas Sarkozy’s name appeared on forged Clearstream client account lists, contradicting de Villepin’s declarations last week.
According to Rondot, Sarkozy’s name was mentioned several times in de Villepin’s presence during a confidential meeting in January 2004. “It’s true, [former EADS Vice-President ] Jean-Louis Gergorin mentioned a joint account shared by Sarkozy and a certain Bosca. I took notes without understanding,” the general told the court in Paris.
The former defence official was reportedly ordered by de Villepin, then France's interior minister, to conduct an investigation into the French political figures whose name appeared on the client list of Luxembourg clearing house Clearstream. Several notebooks full of his findings and observations have been seized by French magistrates. They constitute the most damning piece of evidence in a trial that has otherwise been characterised by contradictory “his word against yours” testimony.
Rondot also claimed that the fomer prime minister asked him to facilitate the liberation of Imad Lahoud, the man suspected of falsifying the Cleastream client lists. Lahoud was at the time in prison on separate fraud charges. De Villepin has persistently denied ever meeting him or acting in his favour.
Rondot’s testimony – which comes on his 73rd birthday – could deal a serious blow to de Villepin’s spirited defence. Last Wednesday, the former prime minister vehemently denied any knowledge of the forged client account lists, let alone accusations of having ordered the forgery himself.
De Villepin is being charged with “conspiracy to commit slander” against President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose name appeared on the forged list.
Rondot’s testimony may shed light on the widely differing accounts of events offered by former EADS Vice-President Jean-Louis Gergorin, who is thought to have ordered the forgery, and former EADS executive Imad Lahoud, who admitted to committing the forgery at what he claims to be Gergorin’s behest. Gergorin’s account in turn contradicts that of de Villepin, who maintains complete and total innocence with regard to the forgery.
A critical entry in Rondot’s notorious notebook relates to a meeting held on January 9, 2004 at the interior ministry, of which de Villepin was head at the time. Rondot was at the time a close associate of de Villepin. The general says Nicolas Sarkozy’s name came up at the meeting in the context of the lists, contradicting de Villepin's claim that he was unaware his rival's name appeared in the lists.
Another of the general's notebook entries relating to a conversation with de Villepin, dated July 19, 2004, has the former premier saying, "If our names appear, the PR [President of the Republic, Jacques Chirac] and I, we are in a lot of trouble." At his court appearance on Wednesday, de Villepin denied having made the remark, saying that the note was based on impressions and was not an accurate account of the conversation.
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