- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

PARIS — French authorities raided the house of former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin yesterday in an investigation of a smear campaign against President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr. de Villepin, a Sarkozy rival who also harbored presidential ambitions, continued to deny any wrongdoing in the so-called Clearstream affair.

However, files leaked to the French press yesterday suggested that he personally ordered a forged list of illicit offshore bank accounts, on which Mr Sarkozy’s name appeared, to be sent to an investigating magistrate.

The evidence, recovered by computer specialists from the hard disk of a laptop belonging to a retired spymaster, preceded yesterday’s raid on Mr. de Villepin’s home.

The Clearstream list, from a Luxembourg clearinghouse of the same name, included politicians and businessmen suspected of receiving illicit kickbacks from the 1991 sale of French warships to Taiwan.

The 2004 list was found to have been doctored, with Mr. Sarkozy’s name added to it.

The recovered files belonged to Gen. Philippe Rondot, then a senior figure in the French intelligence service.

Last year, Jean-Louis Gergorin, a businessman and old friend of Mr. de Villepin, admitted sending the list to Judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke in May 2004.

In the computer notes leaked yesterday, Gen. Rondot quotes an intelligence source as saying that Mr. Gergorin “had received instructions from Dominique de Villepin, formulated by the president of the Republic, to ‘spill the beans’ on Nicolas Sarkozy.”

Jacques Chirac, the president at the time, and Mr. de Villepin both sought to quash Mr. Sarkozy’s presidential ambitions.

The fresh evidence could lead to Mr de Villepin being placed under official investigation.

It also threatened to further tarnish Mr. Chirac’s legacy, even though he cannot be questioned about the case because he was president when the events took place.

Another entry in the leaked computer files says that Mr. Gergorin had contacted the judge after “receiving instructions from Dominique de Villepin eight days previously.” Gen. Rondot also wrote: “I note that this affair is taking a political turn and threatens to become dangerous.”

If the list is fabricated, Gen. Rondot reportedly wrote, “the head of state will be put into question for allowing to develop, or even encourage, through Dominique de Villepin a campaign targeting possible competitors.”

Questioned by judges last week, Gen. Rondot confirmed that Mr. de Villepin had told him: “If we appear, [the president] and I, we are done for.”

“Those were [his] own words,” Gen. Rondot said.

In yet another recovered note, the general said Mr. Gergorin had told him Mr. de Villepin “had appeared both jubilatory but above all concerned not to appear in the scenario.”

Hours after the reports appeared in the French press yesterday, Mr. de Villepin asked judges to grant him an “assisted witness” status — one step short of being under investigation — so that he could see the evidence being compiled against him.

Mr. de Villepin also said he had “not sought to investigate nor compromise any political personality” in this affair of “calumnious denunciation” and asked for “the right to defend himself and bring out the truth.”

The Clearstream affair helped end Mr. de Villepin’s political career. He stepped down as prime minister when Mr. Sarkozy took office last month.

Mr. Chirac also has denied any wrongdoing but last month refused to be questioned about his role in the affair, citing judicial immunity because the events took place during his presidential tenure.