France’s Le Monde newspaper accused the presidency on Monday of breaking press freedom laws when it sought the identity of a source who leaked details in the scandal dogging one of its ministers.
Le Monde said that an article from July naming French Labor Minister Eric Woerth in connection with a police investigation had “particularly irritated the Elysee” palace.
The president’s office used intelligence services to track down the article’s source “outside of any judicial procedure,” and more than two weeks before the opening of an official inquiry into the leak, it said.
The Elysee dismissed the claims, saying: “It never gave the least instruction to any service whatsoever.”
The allegations mark the latest twist in an affair that has embroiled Woerth, a close ally of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the country’s richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt.
What began as a family feud between Bettencourt and her daughter has exploded into a series of investigations concerning political donations, suspected tax evasion and money laundering.
Union leaders, at odds with Woerth over pension reform, have said they can no longer work with the minister as almost daily attacks against him were now too big a distraction.
Any Elysee intervention was a breach of laws protecting journalists from revealing their sources, Le Monde said, adding that the man identified as the source had since been relieved of his duties and sent to work for a court in French Guyana.
Le Monde said it planned to file a lawsuit over the issue.
Sarkozy’s popularity rating is already close to record lows and his administration faces a new round of nationwide strikes on Sept. 23 against pension reform.
The government’s deportation of Roma last month drew criticism from the UN, the EU and the Pope, and saw opposition and left-wing groups protest across France.
The outcry grew louder over the weekend with the publication of an interior ministry memorandum ordering police to prioritize the expulsion of Roma from illegal camps over other ethnic groups, days after the barrage of criticism.