"This decision is a political decision and what it shows is that Nicolas Sarkozy, president of the republic, prefers to continue in his relentlessness and hatred instead of assuming the responsibilities of his office," Villepin told BFM television.

Sarkozy said on Thursday that he would not be launching an appeal on his own, after a judge cleared Villepin of all charges earlier in the day. He has no authority to direct the actions of the prosecutor.

'Conspiracy'

Villepin had been accused of being part of a conspiracy to link Sarkozy to a
corruption probe as the two campaigned to win the 2007 presidential vote, won by Sarkozy.

The case centres on a list - later proved to have been fabricated - of account holders at the Clearstream financial clearing house who allegedly took bribes from the sale of French warships to Taiwan.

Sarkozy, whose name was on the list, alleges the scandal was fabricated to tarnish him ahead of his party's nomination for the presidency.

Three other defendants were convicted, including Jean-Louis Gergorin, an ex-aerospace executive who admitted to leaking the fake list to investigators, and Imad Lahoud, who confessed to adding Sarkozy's name to the list.

Villepin said on Thursday that he hoped to return to active political life, holding out the possibility of running against Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential poll.