The Return of Villepin?

This is a little bit of inside baseball, but Marianne is reporting that former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is likely to be cleared of diffamation charges in what’s known as the Clearstream scandal. The incident dates back to 2004, when a list of offshore accounts mysteriously surfaced, purportedly linking the account holders (including Nicolas Sarkozy) to a 1991 kickback scandal involving the sale of French frigates to Taiwan. Instead of opening an official investigation, Villepin assigned a retired spy to investigate the list, which was later proven to be a fabrication, but not before it was leaked to the press. Villepin was subsequently accused by Sarkozy of intentionally mounting a smear campaign to derail Sarkozy’s presidential ambitions. According to Marianne, the investigating judge is set to conclude that Villepin was not aware that the list was false, and so cannot be tried for diffamation.

Villepin has been politically sidelined since last year, when he was the subject of a series of humiliating police searches and officially charged in the case. That didn’t keep him from launching some broadsides against Sarkozylast fall , but for the most part he’s been relatively silent. Villepin remains a complicated figure on the right, at the same time the logical inheritor of Chirac’s political legacy, but not terribly popular among UMP parliamentary deputies. Still, if he returns to the stage re-vitalized from having survived what’s widely perceived as an attempt by Sarkozy to bury him, he could galvanize opposition to Sarkozy’s imperial presidency from within the majority. Given the internal divisions that have hobbled the left, that might prove to be the most serious political threat Sarkozy faces.

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