- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 14, 2006

PARIS — Documents removed from the home of Gen. Philippe Rondot, a former intelligence officer who worked closely with the French Defense Ministry, included a diary whose cryptic notes may prove acutely embarrassing to both the president and the prime minister.

Both deny having attempted to smear Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy by ordering that he be investigated on suspicion of receiving kickbacks from a 1991 deal to sell warships to Taiwan.

They say they neither tried to target him, nor even mentioned his name. Yet according to Gen. Rondot’s diaries — the contents of which were leaked to the newspaper Le Monde at the end of last week — Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin warned the spymaster that if he and President Jacques Chirac were linked to investigations into Mr. Sarkozy, “we’re done for.”

The diaries suggest that Mr. de Villepin — the foreign minister at the time — did ask for an inquiry into Mr. Sarkozy, on the instructions of the president. Mr. Sarkozy’s initials appear in notes of meetings with “D de V” (Dominique de Villepin), and there are references to the “PR” (President of the Republic).

“Implicate NS,” reads one entry; another says, “Protect D de V and PR.” In a thirdnote, Gen. Rondot shows growing concern over the repercussions if the affair becomes public. “I warn against the negative fallout this could have on the PR,” he wrote.

The intelligence officer eventually concluded that the charges that Mr. Sarkozy received payments through secret accounts at the Clearstream bank in Luxembourg were false. But he wrote that Mr. de Villepin was not convinced and insisted on further investigation.

“D de V considers that despite the negative results [of checks] there is something because the great and good are agitated and worried. N. Sarkozy?” he wrote.

According to French newspaper reports, even after being told that the claims against Mr. Sarkozy were bogus, Mr. de Villepin demanded a second investigation by the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire — the French equivalent of the FBI — which also reported that there was no basis for the accusations.

Mr. de Villepin is also accused of omitting that the inquiries had cleared Mr. Sarkozy of any wrongdoing.

After Le Monde published the notes, a spokesman for Mr. de Villepin said he “vigorously denounced” the printing of “truncated comments, confusions and interpretations.” Mr. Chirac’s office also rejected claims that he had any role in the inquiry.

But their publication has added to a political crisis that has all but paralyzed France’s government a year before presidential elections in which Mr. de Villepin and Mr. Sarkozy are likely to be rival candidates of the right.

The newspaper Liberation said Mr. Chirac’s 10-year reign was coming to a “polluted” end that was becoming “a little more pestilential by the day.”

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