Judges block release of book on French political scandal

A French judge on Wednesday ordered a publishing house to delay release of a book on a political scandal that has rocked France's ruling classes, saying it implicates a key suspect in an ongoing investigation.

The suspect, Imad Lahoud, one-time scientific director for European defense giant EADS, was taken into police custody Wednesday for questioning in the so-called Clearstream affair.

Lahoud has been widely accused of doctoring lists of names that are at the heart of the intrigues, a charge he denies. The phony lists suggested that Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and other prominent figures laundered kickbacks from a 1991 defense contract through Luxembourg clearing house Clearstream.

The scandal centers on accusations that President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin ordered an investigation into the lists, even though they knew they were fake, to sully Sarkozy's name before the 2007 elections, which he is keen to win. Chirac and Villepin deny any wrongdoing.

Now, investigators are trying to figure out who made up the lists and why.

A much-touted book on the affair, called "Clearstream: The Investigation," was to come out Thursday, but the judge ordered it delayed at least until June 27. The judge, pointing out that the probe was still under way, said the presumption of Lahoud's innocence should not be put at risk by a book that presents him as guilty.

The publishing house, Arenes, said it already had sent 31,000 copies to 1,800 vendors, and director Laurent Beccaria said it would appeal the decision.

The book was written by investigative journalist Denis Robert, who has said he gave Lahoud information on Clearstream but that Lahoud later doctored it. Lahoud has been quoted in French media as saying that he had received lists from Robert and passed them on to the DGSE, France's main foreign intelligence agency. Lahoud denies any fabrication.

Lahoud's lawyer Olivier Pardo hailed the judge's move to block the book.

Lahoud was temporarily relieved from his post at European Aeronautics and Defense Systems in May to defend himself in the latest scandal, and was hospitalized soon after for what his lawyer called a bout of depression. He has been jailed twice in recent years for alleged financial misdeeds unconnected to the Clearstream affair.

Investigating judges also questioned another suspected player in the case on Wednesday, a former Arthur Andersen employee who allegedly gave Lahoud copies of financial transactions that may have contributed to the fake lists, reports AP.


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