The Clearstream scandal is a first-rate example of the dark and dirty side of French politics. It has balooned out of control from a bribery story into one threatening presidential hopefuls, spymasters, and former president Chirac.
Clearstream is one of those anonymous adresses in Luxembourg, but in fact an immense European clearing hub for all sorts of banking and financial institution dealing.
It appears bribes in the scandal were tracked down to these accounts, which were then leaked by a mole inside Clearstream. They implicated Nicolas Sarkozy among others. If true, this could have fatally injured his bid to become president, leaving the way clear for his great rival, foreign minister Dominque de Villepin. Except where Sarkozy was concerned it was all lies.
In 1991 France sold Taiwan some frigates, and money changed hands. Lots of money. In 2001 a judge started investigating, and three years later was sent the list of famous names. The secret then bounced around various interested parties close to politics or business until Villepin said he heard of their existence. He published them immediately and ordered an inquiry into Sarkozy, the interior minister.
Somewhere along the line data was forged, however, and Sarkozy, who has already opened legal proceedings for libel, is proved to have no business being on the list.
The questions everyone wants answered are was this a Chirac-engineered plot on behalf of Villepin? Was it the foreign minister’s doing with Chirac’s backing? Did Villepin know the list contained forgeries? Who ordered them made?
He denies it, but his co-defendents insist he knew about them and ordered them. Villepin is accused of taking the information and amplifying it to prevent his rival Sarkozy snatching his date with destiny and the French Republic. He is accused of being bent on his political ruin, at any cost.
“Beyond the details, which are too complex for everyone to understand, for anyone to grasp, the issue is there is a battle of political will between two French politicians. Who is going to win?” says an analyst.
Villepin has already lost much. The presidency seems unattainable now, and if found guilty the penalty period disbarring him from office would finish him politically.