Thursday, January 28, 2010

Smear trial

I've already mentioned a messy high-profile court trial in Paris referred to as the Clearstream affair, because of the name of a Luxembourg bank [display]. Nicolas Sarkozy saw himself as the victim of a smear campaign in which Jacques Chirac's former prime minister Dominique de Villepin seemed to have played an evil role.

Sarkozy had even committed the fault, at the start of the trial, of publicly stigmatizing DDV (as Villepin is often called) as "guilty". And he had also threatened to have the culprit hung up (metaphorically, we assume) on a butcher's meat hook. Well, the verdict was announced this morning, and DDV was cleared of all charges. Needless to say, this outcome is a significant moral blow for the president.

Sarkozy reacted by announcing that he did not intend to lodge an appeal. On the surface, that looked like a charitable decision, designed to end the feud and bring about appeasement. In Sarkozy's announcement, however, there's just one tiny mistake of a legal nature, which is quite unexpected in the mouth of a former professional barrister. In this kind of trial, French law simply does not allow the plaintiff (seeking symbolic damages) to lodge an appeal. This blunder, while of no practical significance, is surprising. Is the president flustered? Does he need a holiday break?

BREAKING NEWS: The state prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin has just announced that an appeal (emanating, not from Sarkozy, but from the prosecutor's office) will indeed be lodged. It will be interesting to see whether this extra display of judicial ferocity will have a favorable influence upon Villepin's thinly-disguised plan to be an opponent of Sarkozy in the presidential election of 2012. The former prime minister might end up being cast in a positive underdog role. Having said this, I should point out that the term "underdog" doesn't sound quite right in the case of a distinguished Gaullist gentleman and former French diplomat whose full name is Dominique Marie François René Galouzeau de Villepin. Son of a senator, Villepin is not in fact a member of the French aristocracy. It was only during the 19th century that this high-sounding name was concocted out of the quite ordinary surnames of paternal and maternal ancestors. But his elegant style as an orator, his noble political principles (concerning, for example, the US invasion of Iraq) and his silvery mane of hair make him out to be a most racy underdog.

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