Thursday

23rd May 2019

Sarkozy government sued for spying on journalists

  • Mr Sarkozy's office has denied having any links to the spying scandal (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

French newspaper Le Monde has filed a lawsuit against President Nicolas Sarkozy's office for using the country's counter-intelligence services to hunt down its sources, a claim Mr Sarkozy has strongly denied.

In a front-page editorial published on Monday (13 September), the paper said it was suing for "violation of the secrecy of sources."

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It accused the president's office of having ordered the tracking down of the source who talked to the paper about alleged illegal party funding by the country's richest woman and L'Oreal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt.

Police sources told Le Monde that counter-espionage officers had looked at the telephone records of a justice ministry official to find out if he had spoken to reporters.

The official has been meanwhile removed from his duties under the accusation of having released restricted information and sent on a minor legal mission to French Guyana.

Le Monde said the spying was "illegal" as it violates a law protecting journalists' sources proposed by Mr Sarkozy and enacted in January of this year.

France's national police chief Frederic Pechenard rejected claims that the probe was illegal and said that the evidence was collected through a "legitimate investigation of the origin of leaks." Domestic intelligence services helped, as it is their mission to "protect the security of institutions," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Sarkozy's cabinet firmly rejected any connection to the case. "The presidency emphasises the fact that it has never given the slightest order to any service whatsoever," said the Elyee in a statement.

Le Monde cited intelligence sources claiming Mr Sarkozy was "furious" at the leak published mid-July and ordered an investigation by the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Interieur (DCRI), a new-umbrella internal security organisation created two years ago in a bid to "de-politicise" the country's security services.

The leak exposed Labour minister Eric Woerth as lobbying Ms Bettencourt's wealth manager for a job for his wife. Five months later, the wealth manager was awarded the Legion d'honneur, a top French honour.

Investigators have followed suit and are looking into Mr Woerth's alleged conflicts of interest, among other accusations of tax evasion and illegal party funding.

The scandal has dented Mr Woerth's credibility as he prepared to present a key pension reform to parliament. A fresh set of nationwide union strikes are due on 23 September against the reforms, while Mr Sarkozy's popularity – close to a record low – has only slightly improved following his clampdown on Roma camps. Leaked documents published last week by Le Monde detailing how the Roma should be targeted "with priority" could see him again decline in the polls, however.

Le Monde has been on a collision course with the centre-right government of Mr Sarkozy ever since it was taken over this summer by a trio of left-leaning millionaires.

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