Ex-French PM cries foul after report he wanted to speed up Sarkozy legal case

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 09, 2014 7:28 AM

PARIS (Reuters) - Former French prime minister Francois Fillon said on Sunday he was a victim of a plot after a media report accused him of seeking to interfere in a legal case against Nicolas Sarkozy, his rival in the right-wing opposition.

The newspaper Le Monde alleged that Fillon had told President Francois Hollande's chief of staff in June to speed up legal cases involving Sarkozy.

Speaking in the weekly Journal du Dimanche, Fillon said he had decided to file a legal complaint over Le Monde's report.

"I can't see anything in these ridiculous attacks other than a destabilization effort and conspiracy," said Fillon, who was prime minister for five years under Sarkozy.

Their UMP party, now the main opposition, has been rocked by crises since Sarkozy lost a 2012 re-election bid to Hollande, first over its leadership and most recently over alleged fraud in the financing of the campaign.

Fillon, Hollande's chief of staff Jean-Pierre Jouyet and a third participant at a June lunch have denied the allegation that Fillon urged the president's office to speed up legal proceedings against Sarkozy to undermine his political comeback.

The contretemps comes just weeks before elections to appoint a leader for the UMP, which Sarkozy is expected to win.

Le Monde said Jouyet told their reporters of his meeting with Fillon and during which a specific case related to Sarkozy's 2012 campaign financing was brought up.

"You know that if you don't hit him quickly, you'll let him come back, so act," Fillon is quoted by Jouyet as saying in Le Monde.

Fillon said the lunch had been at the behest of Jouyet, a former minister under Fillon and a close friend of Hollande.

"I can't believe that the secretary general (Jouyet) could have told the Le Monde reporters (this)," Fillon said. "If it were the case it would be a state scandal."

Despite the denials, the Le Monde reporters said they stood by their story and had a recording of the interview with Jouyet.

Fillon, Sarkozy and another former prime minister, Alain Juppe, are expected to slug it out for the UMP presidential candidacy in 2017. Some Sarkozy backers have said that his re-emergence has not created the buzz they had expected.

Since leaving power, Sarkozy has faced a welter of legal cases ranging from influence-peddling to illegal party funding. He denies all wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a politically-motivated plot to undermine his comeback.

(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Rosalind Russell)