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France appeals court upholds acquittal of ex-PM

The Court of Appeal of Paris [official website, in French] on Wednesday affirmed the acquittal [press release, in French] of former prime minister Dominique de Villepin [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] for allegedly taking part in a smear campaign known as the Clearstream Affair [BBC backgrounder]. Villepin was charged with "complicity in false accusation" for his alleged role in a plot to defame several French public figures, including current President Nicolas Sarkozy [official profile, in French; JURIST news archive]. Prosecutors claimed Villepin came into the possession of a list of secret bank accounts [AP report] that held bribe money relating to illegal arms sales and named Sarkozy and several others as the owners of the accounts. The list was later determined to be fake and prosecutors argued that Villepin should have brought the list to the attention of judicial authorities earlier than he did. Villepin applauded the judiciary for remaining independent and "resist[ing] political pressure" in affirming the decision. He also relayed his hope that the decision would help make France "less vulnerable to rumors and slander" and reiterated his intention to run in the upcoming 2012 presidential election.

A French court acquitted Villepin of all charges [JURIST report] in January 2010. Sarkozy indicated that he would not appeal the verdict, and prosecutors filed an appeal the next day [JURIST report] without Sarkozy listed as a civil party. Villepin was ordered to stand trial [JURIST report] in November 2008, and his trial began in September 2009. Before his acquittal, de Villepin had faced the possibility of an 18-month suspended prison sentence and a €45,000 fine. Villepin's political image was tainted by the allegations as well as by his advance of an unpopular youth labor law [JURIST news archive] during his time as prime minister.

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