Saturday, May 26, 2007

Chirac has some explaining to do

We've heard a strange financial allegation concerning Jacques Chirac, former president of France. Apparently he has an account at the Tokyo Sowa bank, and the balance of the ex-president's account would appear to be 45 million euros. Now, that's a hell of a lot of spare cash, and people are obviously wondering where it came from.

The global context in which this bank account has come to light is referred to, in France, as the Clearstream Affair, since it concerns a Luxembourg clearing house of that name.

Everything started in 2001, with a judicial inquiry into alleged commissions associated with the sale of French frigates to Taiwan in 1991. This inquiry was assigned to a celebrated French magistrate, Renaud Van Ruymbeke, who had already handled several high-profile affairs. He was appreciated for his competent style in terminating the case of the 1996 murder in a French youth hostel of an English schoolgirl, Caroline Dickinson. This case was finally solved, after nine years of futile investigations [click here to see the BBC timeline], thanks to the diligence of an alert US immigration officer.

In January 2004, the French prime minister Dominique de Villepin called upon a mysterious general, Philippe Rondot, well-versed in intelligence affairs, to do some detective work in the domain of the frigates affair. Then, a few months later, an anonymous individual sent the judge Van Ruymbeke several documents that claimed to name prominent people whose illegal commissions concerning the Taiwan frigates had been paid into secret accounts at the Clearstream bank. And one of these named people was Nicolas Sarkozy.

Finally, after numerous investigations and incidents, it emerged that these alleged Clearstream documents were forgeries, and the identity of the forger was revealed. And it was during these investigations, in May 2006, that the Canard enchaîné weekly newspaper revealed the anecdote concerning Philippe Rondot's discovery of the president's mysterious bank account in Japan.

In France, the most famous magistrate in the financial corruption sphere is Norwegian-born Eva Joly. A few days ago, she made life more uncomfortable for the ex-president by declaring publicly that she hopes that French justice opens an inquiry into Chirac's alleged Japanese bank account. So, many observers predict that sparks will start to fly after June 17, when the ex-president's penal immunity terminates.

This question of a mysterious bank account has nothing to do, a priori, with the other affair [click here to see my previous article on this subject] for which Chirac might have some explaining to do: salaries paid to fictitious employees at the city hall of Paris, in fact money directed towards Chirac's political party.

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