De Villepin, former top spy face off over contradictory testimony

Former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin (pictured) and General Philippe Rondot, a former intelligence official, stuck to their scripts on Wednesday in an eagerly awaited courtroom showdown at France's "trial of the decade".


The Clearstream trial that has held France in its grip the past few weeks came to a head Wednesday as former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and General Philippe Rondot, a former top intelligence official, faced off in the courtroom.

De Villepin, who served as France's interior minister between March 2004 and May 2005, stands accused of seeking to derail Nicolas Sarkozy's presidential campaign by linking him to a corruption scandal. The trial, which began September 21, has been marked by contradictory testimony.

On Wednesday, the former French premier once again vehemently denied taking part in a plot to slander Sarkozy, whose name appeared on a fraudulent list of names of clients who held secret accounts with Luxembourg clearing house Clearstream. “At no point during the meeting, did we mention Nicolas Sarkozy’s name,” de Villepin said referring to a meeting held in connection to the Clearstream affair on January 9, 2004.

“Every stage of my relationship with Nicolas Sarkozy shows that I didn’t want to settle scores and I ignored attacks aimed at me,” de Villepin said in court. He also said he had simply ordered General Rondot to investigate the fake Clearstream listings, without mentioning Sarkozy’s name.


'I am not a snake dancing to a snake charmer'

Meanwhile General Rondot maintained his stance from Monday, when he appeared in court to discuss his notes, which claim that de Villepin clearly mentioned Sarkozy during the January 9 meeting. His testimony contradicted de Villepin’s statements last week, when he flatly denied the notes were an accurate reflection of the conversation.


In a trial that has been no short of lofty rhetoric and animal references, General Rondot told the court he had no reason to lie, saying he was not "a snake dancing to a snake charmer".

The legal confrontation was called for by de Villepin’s lawyers. FRANCE 24’s correspondent at the court, Catherine Norris Trent, said the lawyers “wanted to make sure that their client doesn’t come out of this looking embarrassed because of these discrepancies between his evidence and that of General Rondot.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is a civil plaintiff in this trial and much attention has focused on his feud with de Villepin, who has accused the president of abusing his role to influence the investigation.

The trial is scheduled to end on October 23 and judges are expected to take several months to render a verdict


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