Wed, May 03, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Villepin not resigning, denies spying on Sarkozy


French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said yesterday that he would not resign despite a growing political scandal.

He denied any role in the affair, the latest in a series of major problems that have mired down his conservative government, from riots in poor suburbs last fall to street protests by students this spring.

Now, Villepin is accused of having asked an intelligence agent in 2004 to secretly investigate Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy -- Villepin's political rival -- for allegedly receiving kickbacks from the US$2.8 billion sale of French frigates to Taiwan in 1991.

Leading figures in the opposition have called on Villepin to resign, and asked President Jacques Chirac to take action. The French media, too, has insisted that the question of a resignation must now be asked.

"Nothing justifies a departure today," Villepin told Europe-1 radio, noting the timing of the scandal -- a year before presidential elections in which Sarkozy hopes to be the governing party's candidate. "We've lived for decades with the same scenario."

In denying a role in the so-called Clearstream affair, Villepin pointed to an interview published yesterday in the daily Le Figaro as "proof."

General Philippe Rondot denied in the Le Figaro interview yesterday having been charged by Villepin to investigate Sarkozy. This contradicts information published last week by the daily Le Monde, alleging that Rondot had specifically been asked by Villepin to investigate Sarkozy and other political figures in the case.

"I have never asked for an investigation on any political personality from the right or left," Villepin said.

"I am accused on the basis of truncated statements," he added, referring to the Le Monde article. "They have just been denied."

Rondot said that Sarkozy's name was mentioned during a Jan. 9, 2004, meeting with Villepin who was at the time France's foreign minister, but that he had not been asked to investigate.

Villepin denied that Sarkozy's name was even mentioned but said he had sought an investigation due to a "threat" linked to money laundering, a means used by terrorists.

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