Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has emerged the winner in a legal showdown with his arch-rival, President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Villepin always denied conspiring to discredit Sarkozy in a bid to spoil his chances of succeeding Jacques Chirac. Today he was vindicated in court.
“I pay tribute to the courage of the court which has allowed justice and law to triumph over politics,” Villepin told reporters after walking free.
Many believe he could now run for the presidency himself against Sarkozy, in two years time.
The pair were colleagues in government when the scandal broke in 2004. Sarkozy’s name featured on a forged list of people with accounts in Luxembourg’s Clearstream bank that were allegedy used to hide bribery paybacks.
Aged 55 today, Sarkozy was asked to comment on the verdict by reporters at an unrelated news conference.
“I thought you were speaking to wish me happy birthday,” he joked. “But I suppose I should expect that from you. Thank you infinitely and for the rest, lets wait to know the elements before we comment on them.”