Villepin denounces efforts to implicate him in political scandal

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin denounced on Tuesday efforts to implicate him in a political scandal a year before presidential elections, and suggested that notes from an intelligence operative that appear to deepen the head of government's role are being misconstrued.

"I am not duped," Villepin said in an interview on France-2 television. "I see clearly that they wanted to implicate me in a political affair." He refused to specify who they might be.

The scandal hinges on accusations that Villepin, along with President Jacques Chirac, were involved in a smear campaign against their political rival Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, considered a likely contender in next year's presidential elections.

However, the complex scenario being played out daily in French papers had its beginnings with a 1991 French frigate sale to Taiwan and reports of alleged kickbacks. It morphed into a money-laundering affair and a political scandal that has shaken the government.

"I do not believe at any moment that this was about a political matter. They wanted to construct a rivalry and a political matter," he said.

Excerpts from what were allegedly notes by Gen. Philippe Rondot, a former Defense Ministry intelligence operative, printed by the daily Le Monde, contained suspicious entries such as "Protect D de V." That fed suspicions that Villepin was deeply implicated.

The prime minister had ordered Rondot to investigate listings of names of political and other figures with accounts at the Luxembourg clearing house Clearstream, one of which included Sarkozy's names. Villepin has said he feared a money-laundering scheme by the Mafia or terrorists.

"One must not give importance to these constructions," Villepin said of the bits of notes that were published. "It's false," reports AP.


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