French Trial Over Smear Campaign Pits Sarkozy Against Former Rival

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PARIS -- Former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who is on trial for his alleged role in a smear campaign against President Nicolas Sarkozy, accused the French leader of abusing his powers to persecute him.

"I am here because of the furious determination of one man: Nicolas Sarkozy," Mr. de Villepin told reporters as he entered the courtroom on the first day of the trial. Mr. de Villepin has repeatedly denied that he was involved in a smear campaign against Mr. Sarkozy.

Mr. de Villepin has publicly, and through his lawyers, denied the charges. The former prime minister on Monday said he will emerge innocent from the trial.

The case against Mr. de Villepin, a 55-year-old writer and politician whose defining moment was a 2003 United Nations speech in which he urged the U.S. not to invade Iraq, has figured in French newspaper headlines for the past five years.

The trial will attempt to determine who was behind the 2004 falsification and dissemination of banking records saying that Mr. Sarkozy and several other politicians, lawyers and executives held secret bank accounts in Luxembourg, according to lawyers and magistrates involved in the case. At the time the records were disseminated, Messrs. Sarkozy and de Villepin both were ministers in the administration of then-President Jacques Chirac.

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