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France ex-PM Villepin cleared of Sarkozy smear

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Dominique de Villepin: "My innocence has been recognised"

Former French PM Dominique de Villepin has been cleared of plotting to discredit President Nicolas Sarkozy when he was the interior minister.

He had been accused of failing to stop the Clearstream corruption inquiry into Mr Sarkozy, despite knowing the claims against his rival were false.

Both men had been hoping to succeed Jacques Chirac as president in the 2007 election.

Several other defendants in the case were found guilty on various charges.

The judge said there was no proof Mr De Villepin had acted in bad faith, and he was cleared on all four counts of complicity to slander, to use forgeries, dealing in stolen property and breach of trust.

THE CLEARSTREAM VERDICTS
Dominique de Villepin: Former PM, 55. Acquitted on charges of complicity in slander and forgery
Jean-Louis Gergorin: Former EADS vice-president, 63. Sentenced to 15 months in jail and a fine of 40,000 euros (£34,500; $56,000) for slander and use of false documents. Admitted leaking the fake list to investigators
Imad Lahoud: Computer expert, 42. Sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined 40,000 euros for slander and use of false documents. Confessed to adding Sarkozy's name to the list
Florian Bourges: Accountant, 31. Guilty of theft and breach of trust for obtaining the original Clearstream documents. Given a four-month suspended sentence.
Denis Robert: Journalist and author who broke the story, 41. Acquitted of dealing in stolen property and breach of trust


There were cheers outside the courtroom as the verdict was read out, but Mr De Villepin showed little emotion, says the BBC's Emma Jane Kirby in Paris.

After the verdict, he said outside the courtroom: "After many years of ordeal, my innocence has been recognised. I was hurt by the image of politics that was portrayed, of the commitment that I have made over the past 30 years.

"I am now looking to the future to serve the French people and contribute in a spirit of unity to the recovery of France."

The former prime minister is now likely to relaunch his political career and to challenge President Sarkozy in the next general election in 2012, our correspondent says.

His acquittal will be a bitter blow to Mr Sarkozy, who celebrates his 55th birthday on Thursday, and who had promised he would "hang from a butcher's hook" for trying to smear his name, she adds.

Complex investigation

In 2004, Mr Sarkozy's name appeared on a list of top politicians and businessmen who were wrongly linked to an illegal bank account in Luxembourg.

It was alleged those named on the list had received bribes from international arms sales.

Villepin, Sarkozy

The list was sent to people including Mr De Villepin, who was accused of failing to stop the conspiracy.

During the investigation, Mr De Villepin admitted he knew of the documents - but the court found no evidence to prove he had known they had been faked.

At the trial, prosecutors had called for him to receive an 18-month suspended sentence and a fine of 45,000 euros (£39,000).

Three other defendants were convicted, including a former executive of the EADS aerospace group, Jean-Louis Gergorin, who admitted leaking the fake list to investigators, and Imad Lahoud, a computer specialist, who confessed to adding Mr Sarkozy's name to the list.

Both men were fined 40,000 euros (£34,500; $56,000). Gergorin must serve 15 months in prison and Lahoud must serve 18 months.

A fifth defendant was cleared.



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SEE ALSO
Murky tale behind French PM's trial
28 Jan 10 |  Europe
Profile: Nicolas Sarkozy
26 Jul 09 |  Europe
Profile: Dominique de Villepin
28 Jan 10 |  Europe
France timeline
05 Jun 12 |  Country profiles

FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
AFP via Yahoo! French prosecutors seek second trial for Sarkozy rival - 36 mins ago
Bangkok Post French prosecutors to appeal Sarkozy rival's acquittal - 3 hrs ago
Times of India Former French PM acquitted in Nicolas Sarkozy smear campaign trial - 19 hrs ago
Telegraph Nicolas Sarkozy humiliated as de Villepin cleared of smear charges - 22 hrs ago
Jang Group France's Villepin acquitted in Sarkozy smear trial - 24 hrs ago



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