De Villepin fights back after damning testimony by top spy

Former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin claimed that "history showed" that he never dealt "underhand blows" against President Nicolas Sarkozy after a top French spy linked him to a smear campaign targeting his political rival.


AFP- Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin confronted the star witness in his smear trial on Wednesday and angrily rejected charges that he plotted to damage Nicolas Sarkozy's bid for the presidency in 2007.


The confrontation came on the ninth day of the mammoth "Clearstream trial", in whichVillepin is accused of conspiring to defame Sarkozy by using falsified documents to implicate him in a corruption case.


Villepin denies any wrongdoing but evidence offered on Monday by General Philippe Rondot, a former senior intelligence official, suggested that he was more involved in the case than he had previously admitted.


The silver-haired Villepin, a bitter rival of Sarkozy when the two served in government together under former President Jacques Chirac, dismissed suggestions that he had been motivated by their mutual enmity.


"The whole history of my relations with Nicolas Sarkozy shows that not only did I never try to get revenge but that I overlooked blows that were struck against me," he said.


"I don't mind people accusing me of a lot of things but rivalries, underhand blows, no. History shows it."


The trial is based around a falsified set of lists that first surfaced in 2004, purportedly detailing accounts held at the Luxembourg-based securities clearing house Clearstream by dozens of prominent individuals, including Sarkozy.


They were brought to Villepin's attention by Jean-Louis Gergorin, a former executive of aerospace group EADS who had close links to intelligence services and who suggested that they might be linked to corruption and organised crime.


The lists were later shown to be faked but Villepin, who was foreign and then interior minister at the time, is accused of having them passed anonymously to a magistrate investigating kickbacks on an arms sale even though he knew them to be bogus.


Villepin, who risks five years in prison if found guilty of conspiring to use falsified documents to defame his rival, has said he was not initially aware that Sarkozy's name was on the lists and did not at first realise they were faked.


He says he asked Rondot to investigate the lists in January 2004 but that there was no suggestion that they might drag Sarkozy into any investigation.


However Rondot's evidence on Monday suggested that, contrary to Villepin's assertions, he was aware Sarkozy's name was in the documents well before they were passed to the magistrate.


Rondot also said that Villepin had asked him to have Imad Lahoud, a former EADS computer specialist who is accused of falsifying the documents, freed from custody where he was being held over a separate fraud case.


Rondot's evidence was especially damaging because, unlike other evidence from prosecution witnesses, it was backed up by copious notes of his meeting with Villepin in January 2004.


On Wednesday, Villepin disputed Rondot's evidence and again denied any involvement in plot against Sarkozy.


"You don't plot, you don't get involved in defamation when you are a politician on the basis of a request for an investigation to General Rondot," he said.


"I did not ask General Rondot to come that day with his notebooks and his little pencil to a meeting of conspirators. That is not my conception of the Republic."



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