French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on Thursday was questioned by judges over an alleged smear campaign to damage his party rival, the center-right presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy.
The saga described as a French Watergate has threatened to mire Jacques Chirac's last months as president, revealing the poisonous feud in government between his protege, de Villepin, and the ambitious interior minister, Sarkozy, who is running as president promising a "clean break" with the Chirac era.
The alleged plot dates back to 2004 when an anonymous source wrote to a judge accusing politicians and business people of holding secret bank accounts with the Luxembourg bank Clearstream. The accounts were said to hold kickbacks from the US$2.8 billion sale of French frigates to Taiwan in 1991. On the list was the then-finance minister Sarkozy, who had made no secret of his hopes of succeeding Chirac as president.
Paris braced itself for what seemed to be the corruption scandal of the decade. But the judge quickly established that the accusations were totally false and the accounts did not exist.
Sarkozy complained that the affair had been used to discredit him and a judicial inquiry is now trying to establish who wrote the poison-pen letter and whether senior members of the government prolonged the bogus corruption scandal, using intelligence officials in a deliberate plot to smear Sarkozy's name.
Investigating judges have searched all corners of France's political hierarchy from senior spies to top politicians, interviewing Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and now de Villepin.
The judges were seeking to find out when and what de Villepin knew about the bogus bank account accusations and whether he kept the investigation going long after it became clear that Sarkozy had been unjustly accused.
Sarkozy's camp on Thursday repeated their calls for punishment if the investigation establishes a smear campaign was aimed at unsettling his presidential run.
EVOLVING SITUATION: Of the latest cases, 23 percent were found to be asymptomatic, but the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more contagious, authorities said A COVID-19 outbreak that began in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang more than a week ago has spread to at least four city factories with a combined workforce of about 3,700, state media reported yesterday. Four cases were found at the plants in different industrial parks in the central city that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said. Vietnam, praised widely for its decisive measures to combat the novel coronavirus since it first appeared in late January, is battling new clusters of infection having gone for more than three months without detecting any domestic transmissions. Authorities yesterday reported one new
WARNINGS OVER COMPLACENCY: The curves of new infections in numerous countries is climbing, while others see the the first new infections in months Spikes in COVID-19 infections in Asia have dispelled any notion that the region might be over the worst, with Australia and India yesterday reporting record daily infections, Vietnam fretting over a new surge and North Korea urging vigilance. Asian nations had largely prided themselves on rapidly containing initial outbreaks after the coronavirus emerged in central China late last year, but flare-ups this month have shown the danger of complacency. “We’ve got to be careful not to slip into some idea that there’s some golden immunity that Australia has in relation to this virus,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. Australia recorded its
‘COVIDIOTS’: Politicians condemned the protest that came amid surging infections in the country, while a marcher said government-induced fear weakened the body Loudly chanting their opposition to masks and vaccines, thousands of people on Saturday gathered in Berlin to protest against COVID-19 restrictions before being dispersed by police. Police put turnout at about 20,000 — well below the 500,000 organizers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” from months of virus curbs. Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over the past few weeks and politicians took to social media to criticize the rally as irresponsible. “We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists, as they converged
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable