TCS Daily

Vive la Corruption!

By Olivier Guitta - May 31, 2006 12:00 AM

A major political scandal has been hounding Jacques Chirac's government for several weeks. Dirty tricks, jealousy and political ambition are the main elements of the soap opera, which features new revelations every day. Best of all it is taking place within one party.

In mid-2004, a French judge in charge of a major corruption case received anonymous letters and a CD-ROM containing a listing of people having supposedly opened illegal accounts with Clearstream, the Luxembourg based clearinghouse. The people incriminated included, among others, current Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's archrival. After investigating the accounts, the judge concluded in the fall of 2004 that the whole story was a well-orchestrated manipulation.

Recently, Jean-Louis Gergorin, the vice chairman of EADS, the holding company of aircraft manufacturer Airbus, and a very close friend of Villepin, finally acknowledged under huge pressure that it was he who had sent the letters. He also revealed Villepin's involvement when the latter told him that he did not want Sarkozy to know about the whole case. A few days ago, French General Philippe Rondot, an ex-leader of the DGSE -- French equivalent to the CIA -- and a Ministry of Defense civil servant, also acknowledged that Villepin ordered him not to inform the defense minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, whose husband is quite friendly with Sarkozy.

Rondot also admitted that he lied in June 2005 when he wrote in a note to his Minister that "we never ever investigated Nicolas Sarkozy." On May 3, while Villepin was proclaiming his innocence in the affair, Le Monde posted on its website a 26-page document: the almost complete Rondot file. His notes are quite telling: "Instructions from the President of the Republic whom Dominique de Villepin briefed: Direct handling with the President, caution top secret. Take into account the political manipulations"

Then regarding Sarkozy, Rondot wrote: "The political stake: Nicolas Sarkozy. Fixation on Nicolas Sarkozy, reference conflict Chirac-Sarkozy. Role of the Americans: support expressed to Nicolas Sarkozy."

Also on July 21, 2004, Rondot wrote that Villepin had told him: "If we appear, the president and myself, we are toast."

The smoking gun just confirms what most people suspected: Villepin's involvement in one way or another in the framing of Sarkozy. Sarkozy himself had many times implied he knew all along who was behind the plot to defame him.

In his most recent bestseller La Tragédie du Président, Franz-Olivier Giesbert, editor in chief of the newsmagazine Le Point, who had published the Clearstream listing back in July 2004, affirms that Villepin's mission is to finish off Sarkozy with or without Chirac's approval. But for Sarkozy "Villepin is Chirac". Nonetheless, after Le Point's story, speaking about Sarkozy to then Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Villepin exulted: "That's it! We got him!" Giesbert also confirmed that Villepin told him around that time: "Sarkozy is over."

Giesbert, an expert on French politics, is amazed at the level of violence and hatred between the two men. Regarding Sarkozy, Villepin told other members of the government "You have to f... this little bastard". Villepin has nicknamed Sarkozy "the midget" because of his small height. They both speak of a mortal combat.

Over the summer 2005, according to Giesbert, Sarkozy told Chirac that "one day, I will find the asshole who plotted this and he will finish on a butcher's hook." A member of parliament from Sarkozy and Villepin's party recently said that the knives are already out and the worst is yet to come. He added: " There is going to be blood on the walls."

Interestingly enough, Villepin is almost universally hated in France, starting with the First Lady. Bernadette Chirac has nicknamed him "Nero" after the infamous Roman Emperor who murdered his own mother, ruled as an autocrat, executed senators, and loved poetry - which, by the way, Villepin is famous for writing. She also told her husband in front of witnesses the day he picked Villepin as prime minister: "This is the worst decision you have ever made, you will regret it!"

While working as Chirac's chief of staff, Villepin had a "black cabinet" which he used to build cases against rivals or political adversaries, spread and manipulate information. It is not surprising then that his other nickname is Rasputin.

By picking two mortal enemies for the top two posts in his government, Chirac was only asking for trouble. Sarkozy's main reason for returning to a government post was to get the Interior Ministry, succeeding Villepin, in order to investigate who framed him. He had hinted that he knew that Villepin was using the secret service to attack him.

François Bayrou, a major right wing political figure, whose party for the first time ever voted to impeach a right wing government, had said all along that by "having Villepin and Sarkozy in the same government, the State would be hijacked and the war would reach unheard levels of violence."

In any democracy, if a president and a prime minister are involved in a scandal of this magnitude, they would resign or be impeached. Not in France. One of the reasons according to Giesbert is that in the late 1990s, when he was general secretary of Chirac's presidential office, Villepin told him "The president can never fire me, never....I know too much, outside of the system I would become a time bomb." But also Rondot incidentally revealed that he had investigated an illegal bank account in Japan allegedly in Chirac's name worth about $57 million.

The fun is only just beginning...

Olivier Guitta is a foreign affairs consultant.


1 Comment

Vive la corruption!
This is a brilliant piece of journalism for anglophone audiences.
As a ten-year resident of Aix-en-Provence, although biased in my preference for English language news, this is the first time I have understood clearly what the "affaire clearstream" is all about.
I refused for the longest time -- at least until reading this article -- to believe there was animosity between the poet diplomat and the brilliant strategist, Nicolas Sarkozy. Both are Chirac protegées.
To place responsibility for France's sorry state of internal politics, its refusal of the European Constitution on Jacques Chirac is to judge a system by its appearance. The real problem is the system needs to be reformed; It needs to be streamlined in a way that holds leadership accountable.
The sooner Chirac is out, the better it will be for all. 2007 will not arrive soon enough!

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