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France's political trial of the decade begins

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France's political trial of the decade begins


In Paris, a long-awaited trial gets underway today – pitting two of the most senior figures in French politics against each other in a tale of back-stabbing and intrigue.

Former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is facing charges that he oversaw an elaborate plot to smear Nicolas Sarkozy to prevent him becoming President. The Clearstream affair centres on a list of account holders at a Luxembourg bank of the same name, supposedly laundering illicit bribes from an arms deal. Computer specialist Imad Lahoud is also in the dock, accused of falsifying the list by adding scores of prominent names. It was delivered anonymously to a judge by a former director of the defence company EADS Jean-Louis Gergorin in 2004. The biggest name on the list was Nicolas Sarkozy. But the judge found the document to be a fake. Gergorin, who is also facing charges, claims Villepin made him do it, saying: “According to the evidence, it looks like Imad Lahoud falsified the accounts. There are things that prove that. I was wrong, I can see that. I was a fool. But I believed him.” Sarkozy and Villepin were rival ministers under President Chirac, and were both on the cards to succeed him to the top job. Speaking in 2006, Villepin said: “At no time was there an inquiry into any political figures.” In the same year, Sarkozy said: “I want to know who put me in, why they put me in, and how they put me in.” There is little love lost between the two. Villepin denies the charges, but faces five years in jail if convicted.

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