Police searched the home of Dominique de Villepin, the former French Prime Minister, yesterday as judges appeared close to charging him with conspiring to implicate Nicolas Sarkozy, now the President, in a corruption scandal. Criminal charges are thought likely after examining judges unearthed new evidence that appears to put Mr de Villepin, 56, close to the heart of the so-called Clearstream affair.WILL CHIRAC BE IMPLICATED IN THIS CONSPIRACY TO SMEAR SARKOZY?
The scandal, under investigation since 2005, involves forged bank records that suggested falsely that Mr Sarkozy and other senior figures had received big bribes in the sale of French warships to Taiwan.
Mr de Villepin was serving as Foreign and then Interior Minister and Mr Sarkozy, his rival for the future presidency, was Finance, then Interior Minister.
As Daniel Johnson writes on Commentary Magazine's "contentions" blog:
The trail leads back via the computer files of a senior intelligence officer, General Philippe Rondot, to two conversations in May 2004 between de Villepin and a defense contractor, Jean-Louis Gregorin, who has already been charged with conspiracy. Apparently Gregorin told the general that he had “received instructions from Dominique de Villepin.” On another occasion, de Villepin “was apparently jubilant but also concerned not to have his name appear in the affair.” These notes look very much like the smoking gun that police were looking for.
They may yet catch an even bigger fish. Two weeks ago Chirac rejected a judicial summons to be interrogated about the Clearstream affair, on the grounds that he enjoys presidential immunity. But that defense may not be enough to protect him if it becomes clear that he, too, knew of and approved the plot to destroy Sarkozy’s reputation. There is no recent example of a French head of state being involved in such a serious criminal conspiracy—we have to go back to Marshal Pétain.