Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin has been acquitted on charges of orchestrating a smear campaign against President Nicolas Sarkozy. The verdict opens the path for Mr. de Villepin's political return.
In a statement following the verdict, Mr. de Villepin saluted the Paris court that delivered the judgment for its courage in allowing justice to prevail over politics.
Mr. de Villepin said he bore no grudge or bitterness and he wanted to turn the page on an incident that had blemished the image of politics and his own career. He said he wanted to look toward the future and to serve France and the French people. Several other defendants were convicted on a variety of charges and another was acquitted.
Once considered a possible successor to former-president Jacques Chirac, Mr. de Villepin was accused of complicity in slander and forgery in a tangled case involving bogus kickback accounts. The fake accounts were part of a larger campaign to smear the image of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other top political figures.
At the time the scandal unfolded, in 2004, Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. de Villepin were considered top rivals to succeed President Chirac. Ultimately, Mr. Sarkozy ran for president and won in 2007.
In its ruling, the court found Mr. de Villepin was in fact a victim, rather than an instigator of the smear campaign. Mr. Sarkozy said in a statement he was satisfied with the ruling.
Mr. de Villepin's acquittal opens up prospects for his political return - including a possible run for the presidency in 2012. Mr. Sarkozy, who turned 55 on Thursday, is struggling against low approval ratings as he tries to revive France's economy.