A French appeals court has confirmed the acquittal of Dominique de Villepin, a former prime minister, over a political scandal in which he was accused of smearing Nicolas Sarkozy, the president.
The court in Paris threw out an attempt by prosecutors to reverse last year’s verdict in which he was cleared of all charges over his role in the 2004 Clearstream inquiry.
The Clearstream case centred on a forged list of names, made public ahead of the 2007 presidential election, which falsely linked Sarkozy, who was standing for office, to a corruption investigation relating to secret Luxembourg bank accounts.
The list was sent to a number of people, including de Villepin, who was accused of knowing about the conspiracy but failing to stop it.
A lower court acquitted de Villepin in 2010 of charges of complicity in slander in the affair.
The scandal became known as the Clearstream affair after the bank involved.
Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Paris, said the Clearstream case boiled down to a bitter rivalry between the two politicians.
“It is a huge personal vindication for Dominique de Villepin and also a big political victory with his long-running rival Nicolas Sarkozy,” she said.
“Both men wanted to succeed Jacques Chirac as president, but while de Villepin became Chirac’s protege, his ruling party chose Sarkozy.”
De Villepin, a career diplomat, served as prime minister from 2005 until Sarkozy succeeded Chirac as head of state in 2007.
He is best remembered for leading the charge against the Iraq war at the United Nations in 2003.
Sarkozy and de Villepin are expected to stand against each other in next year’s presidential election.
“De Villepin has a date with destiny and even though his political associates are keeping the cards close to their chests, polls give him a 35 per cent approval rating,” Rowland said.
Meanwhile, a judicial official has said the Paris prosecutor’s office is also opening a preliminary investigation into the claims of a French lawyer that Chirac received suitcases of cash from African leaders when he was in office.
The financial division of the prosecutor’s office will question Robert Bourgi, who claimed to be the go-between, about his allegations that also target de Villepin.
The official requested anonymity because he is not authorised to speak publicly.
Bourgi told a radio station on Monday that he had handed Chirac and de Villepin about $20m from heads of state of former French colonies between 1995 and 2005.
The secret campaign donations were sometimes concealed in African drums or crammed into suitcases.
Bourgi has also advised Sarkozy but denied passing cash to him.
His denial has been questioned by others, including supporters of de Villepin.
De Villepin’s potential challenge to Sarkozy at April’s election would follow years of bitter in-fighting in the Gaullist movement that has long dominated the French centre-right.