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Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Tuesday, 7 October 2008 13:12 UK

Former French PM could face trial

Nicolas Sarkozy (left) and Dominique de Villepin (right)
Nicolas Sarkozy and Dominique de Villepin were once political rivals

French prosecutors have called for former PM Dominique de Villepin to face trial over an alleged plot to smear President Nicolas Sarkozy.

He is suspected of targeting Mr Sarkozy when the pair were seen as rivals to succeed President Jacques Chirac.

Mr de Villepin is alleged to have helped leak a fake list of individuals said to have benefited from illegal arms sale commissions.

Mr de Villepin denies any wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of slander.

He and Mr Sarkozy were both ministers under President Chirac, but were intense rivals. Mr de Villepin was preferred by Mr Chirac, but it was Mr Sarkozy who won party support to succeed the president.

Mr de Villepin has been under judicial investigation since July 2007 over the scandal - dubbed the "Clearstream affair".

The name comes from the Luxembourg bank where the individuals on the list - which included Mr Sarkozy - were supposed to be account holders.

'Hot and cold'

Prosecutors had moved in June to dismiss the case against the former prime minister for lack of evidence, but then decided to order another round of hearings.

Investigating judges will now have decide whether to order a trial.

Mr De Villepin's lawyer described the prosecution's move as "surprising, even incoherent".

"Three months ago, prosecutors considered that the evidence gathered during the course of the inquiry did not justify trying Dominique de Villepin. Three months later, the same prosecutors have changed their minds," lawyer Olivier d'Antin told the AFP news agency.

He said the prosecution appeared to be "blowing hot and cold".


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