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Ex-French PM steps up legal battle against Hollande’s top aide

François Fillon (left) and Jean-Pierre Jouyet
François Fillon (left) and Jean-Pierre Jouyet AFP

Fuelling the scandal that has rocked France’s political establishment for the past 10 days, former Prime Minister François Fillon has filed three separate libel suits against the presidency’s chief of staff Jean-Pierre Jouyet, his lawyer said.

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The coming week is promising to turn into a full-blown legal war between close aides to French President François Hollande and his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.

Fillon, who served as prime minister under Sarkozy between 2007 and 2010, is suing Jouyet for three counts of libel, his attorney Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi told FRANCE 24.

Fillon is now Sarkozy’s rival for the conservative UMP party’s nomination for the 2017 presidential election. For his part, Jouyet briefly defected from the Socialist Party to serve as junior minister under Fillon in 2007, but returned to become President Hollande’s top aide earlier this year.

>> Read also on FRANCE 24: “The perils of discussing Sarkozy over lunch”

On November 6, a book by two journalists, Gérard Davet et Fabrice Lhomme, first quoted Jouyet as saying that Fillon had asked him to speed up investigations in several alleged corruption cases against Sarkozy.

Following Fillon and Jouyet’s denials, the journalists then published a transcript of their interview in Le Monde newspaper, in which Jouyet says Fillon asked him last June to target Sarkozy and “hit him quickly” as the former president was staging his return to the political scene.

In a statement on November 9, the presidency’s chief of staff was ultimately forced to confess that he and Fillon had discussed legal proceedings targeting their common political rival over lunch – though he added that the presidency had refused to intervene.

Versini-Campinchi said that Fillon is suing Jouyet for libel in relation to each of the three occurrences of the accusation of political maneuvering, with associated lawsuits targeting Davet and Lhomme, the publishers of their book and Le Monde.

"By saying in his statement that he had declined to intervene politically in judicial proceedings, Mr Jouyet implied that Mr Fillon had made that request," the lawyer argued.

Court to rule in separate case against journalists

Although there had been no warning of a legal offensive on such a scale, François Fillon and his lawyers had previously hinted that they were considering suing Jouyet when they launched a separate emergency lawsuit against the journalists.

A Paris court is due to rule on Thursday whether to force the reporters to hand over their recording of the Jouyet interview to Fillon, who could then use it in further proceedings. The case has prompted widespread concern over the protection of journalists' sources.

"We know this is touching the sacred cow of press freedom, so we will not use it in any of the libel cases," said Versini-Campinchi. Instead, Fillon's lawyer said he needed the tape to prepare a potential civil lawsuit against the journalists, whom he accused of commmercially promoting their book through the scandal involving his client.

The details and the mood of the interview could also have political repercussions, shedding some light on the level of calculation behind the leaking of such explosive information by a top presidency official.

>> Read also on FRANCE 24: “Ex-PM Fillon to sue Le Monde over Sarkozy claims”

In the meantime, the revelation of such secret backroom dealings has damaged the political standing of both Fillon and Jouyet.

Only 8% of respondents to a poll published by the newspaper Le Parisien on Sunday said they wanted Fillon to run for president in 2017.

When asked about the case at the G20 summit in Australia on Sunday, President Hollande commented on the controversy for the first time and stood by his top aide, saying: “Jean-Pierre Jouyet is a good chief of staff of the Élysée palace.”

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