Following up on Friday’s news of the Clearstream investigation of kickbacks in the sale of warships to Taiwan, money-laundering and high-level corruption:
Last week Le Monde reported a senior secret service agent as saying he had been asked to investigate possible links between Sarkozy and Clearstream at the behest of Villepin, who had been acting on Chirac’s orders. Specifically
de Villepin is accused of having asked an intelligence agent in 2004 to secretly investigate M Sarkozy for allegedly receiving kickbacks from a £1.5 billion sale of French frigates to Taiwan in 1991.
The scandal has repercussions outside France, since it involves an Executive Vice President of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), and the control of Europe’s defense industry.
M&C News summarizes the story (emphasis mine),
The affair began in the summer of 2004, when French magistrates were sent anonymously a letter and CD purporting to show that a number of senior French politicians and top executives in Airbus and the EADS defense group held secret and illegal accounts with the Luxembourg-based bank Clearstream International.
General Philippe Rondot, legendary head of the DGSE intelligence service (akin to the CIA) and Bousquet de Florian, head of the DST secret service (more like the FBI), began to make inquiries about the list, which was soon found to be a forgery.
President Jacques Chirac initially thought this to be an American plot to destabilize France. But Nicolas Sarkozy, current favorite to be Chirac`s replacement as conservative candidate in next year`s presidential election, suspected that it was a plot to disgrace him since his name was prominent on the list of account holders.
Sarkozy, who has filed a civil lawsuit on the matter, also suspects that his arch political rival, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, was playing a murky role. And Sarkozy demanded in a meeting with Villepin and de Florian that his name be publicly cleared.
But the plot thickened as the intelligence services began to hunt ‘le corbeau’ (the crow), the shadowy person behind the forged CD. Suspicion fell on Prime Minister de Villepin`s close friend, Jean-Louis Gergorin, a top executive at EASDS, which was undergoing its own power struggle that involved the future of Airbus and the French (and wider European) defense industry. Gergorin stoutly denies being ‘le corbeau’.
It goes well beyond a Villepin-Sarkozy feud, though,
Last month, the relentless magistrates searched the files of Defense Minister Michaele Alliot-Marie, after also searching the offices of the DGSE and of General Rondot, and of various Airbus and EADS figures. The magistrates are now reported in the French press to be about to search the offices of the prime minister, who is protesting his innocence of the whole affair and demanding a full inquiry.
But the prime minister, who claimed in a public statement Thursday never to have fingered Sarkozy in the matter, is now accused of being somewhat economical with the truth. The newspaper Le Monde published Friday the contents of a note seized by the magistrates from General Rondot`s office, which said of the General`s meeting with the prime minister: ‘Enjeu politique: N. Sarkozy. Fixation sur N. Sarkozy (ref. conflit J. Chirac/N. Sarkozy)’. (Political stakes: N. Sarkozy. Fixation on Sarkozy (reflects the conflict between Chirac and Sarkozy.)
Since other leading politicians, including the former Socialist Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Khan, are equally infuriated to have found their names on the forged Clearstream list, the whole of France`s political class and its media are currently obsessed with the affair. There is much meat for them to chew over, from the identity of le corbeau to the political implications in this bizarre period of the end of the Chirac regime, and for the effect on European relations of what seems to have been a French plot to dominate the Franco-German EADS group [the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company] and control Europe`s defense industry.
Today’s front page of Libération poses 10 questions to the Prime Minister (article in French, my translation):
- Did Jacques Chirac ask you to start the investigation?
- Why did you become interested in Clearstream?
- Did you request that Nicolas Sarkozy be investigated?
- What did Jean-Louis Gergorin [Executive Vice President of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS)] do during the January 9, 2004 meeting?
- Do you know where the Clearstream file came from?
- Why didn’t you warn Nicolas Sarkozy that he was under investigation?
- When were you sure that the file was a forgery?
- Why didn’t you inform the justice authorities?
- Why did you request on July 2004 that DST reinvestigate?
- Do you know who is ‘le corbeau’ (the crow)?
For the time being, de Villepin isn’t answering anything and claims he is indignant and shocked at the ‘libel campaign’ targeting him and said he wanted the truth established, a response worthy of Bill and Hillary.
(American readers should note that the French Prime Minister post is appointed by the President, not elected. As such, he can be fired by the French President.)
Correction: I mistranslated question 9, and missed question 5. My apologies for the errors.
Update: More (in French) at the France2 newscast.
Follow-up post L’affaire Clearstream: the first question