Former intelligence boss gives evidence

As the giving of evidence in the Clearstream trial draws to a close, France's former domestic intelligence supremo Yves Bertrand (pictured) has denied any involvement in an alleged plot to smear Nicolas Sarkozy.


A former French spymaster denied Monday taking part in a plot to smear President Nicolas Sarkozy during his much-awaited testimony at the trial of ex-prime minister Dominique de Villepin.

Yves Bertrand, the former head of the RG police intelligence service, said he had never heard of the Clearstream dirty tricks scandal before the media began reporting on it in July 2004.

Villepin and four other defendants are on trial on charges of conspiring to slander Sarkozy in 2004 by implicating him in corruption at a time when the two men were jostling to succeed president Jacques Chirac.

The case centres on a fake list of account holders from the Clearstream financial clearing house who were said to have received kickbacks from the sale of French frigates to Taiwan.

Sarkozy's name was on the list and the French president alleges the furore was fabricated to tarnish him during his campaign for the right-wing party nomination ahead of the 2007 vote.

Bertrand's testimony was crucial after another defendant, Imad Lahoud, admitted in court to adding Sarkozy's name to the list in the ex-spy chief's office.

"This is a completely fantastic tale," Bertrand told judges at the Paris criminal court.

"I never met Lahoud in my office nor anywhere else and I state that emphatically," said the ex-spy chief, who was at the helm of police intelligence for 12 years.

Lahoud, a former employee with Franco-German aerospace giant EADS, said the meeting with Bertrand took place in March 2004 in the presence of another defendant, EADS vice president Jean-Louis Gergorin.

But Gergorin testified that he had never laid eyes on Bertrand before their face-to-face encounter in court.

Dubbed the trial of the decade, the Clearstream case features a Who's Who of big names in French politics, industry and intelligence circles, beginning with Sarkozy, who is a civil plaintiff in the case.

Three weeks of testimony have however failed to clear up questions about the bogus list and how Sarkozy's name along with those of more than 100 prominent people ended up on it.

Villepin took the stand last week to deny that he had leaked the fake list to investigators and ordered a special probe to focus on Sarkozy as one of the alleged Clearstream account holders.

Judges were to wrap up testimony on Monday and begin hearing submissions from lawyers representing Sarkozy and some of the 38 other civil plaintiffs in the case.

The trial ends on October 23 after the defence and the prosecution make their final submissions, but a verdict is not expected before several months.

Villepin faces up to five years in jail if convicted of conspiracy to slander, forgery, use of stolen documents and breach of trust.

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