Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has been placed under formal investigation over allegations that he tried to discredit President Nicolas Sarkozy, when both men were ministers in Jacques Chirac's government. The next step could be criminal charges. Anita Elash reports for VOA from Paris.
The case came to light in 2004 when letters were sent to a French judge alleging that Mr. Sarkozy and other officials had taken bribes for arms sales to Taiwan. Mr. Sarkozy, interior minister at the time, was falsely accused of stashing the bribes with the Luxembourg bank, Clearstream. Both Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. de Villepin had aspirations to become president, and investigators believe that Mr. de Villepin wanted to discredit his rival.
On Friday, Mr. de Villepin began the day by meeting with two investigating magistrates. A short time later, one of his lawyers announced that the former prime minister had been placed under formal investigation for what he called "complicity in slanderous denunciations." Formal investigation is a first step toward criminal charges.
Speaking to reporters after meeting with the judges, Mr. de Villepin denied the allegations.
He says that at no point did he ask for any politician to be investigated. He says he never participated in any political maneuvers.
Other members of Mr. de Villepin's government have also been implicated. The newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche has reported that former defense minister and current interior minister Michele Alliot-Marie was involved. Investigators say they want to question former President Jacques Chirac.
Mr. Chirac denies he knew anything about the affair.