Le Monde has filed a lawsuit against President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s office for using the country’s counter-intelligence services to track the French newspaper’s sources. Sarkozy’s office is being accused of having hunted down the source who talked to the paper about alleged illegal party funding by the country’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.
“The presidency emphasizes the fact that it has never given the slightest order to any service whatsoever.”
In a front-page editorial published on Monday, the newspaper say they are suing the president’s administration for violation of the secrecy of sources, accusing Sarkozy of having ordered the national intelligence service to track down the source who talked to Le Monde about alleged illegal party funding by the country’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.
Police sources are telling Le Monde that counter-espionage officers have looked at the telephone records of a justice ministry official to find out if he have spoken to reporters.
The official has now been removed from his duties, accused of having released restricted information and sent on a minor legal mission in the French Guyana.
France’s national police chief, Frederic Pechenard, reject the claims saying that the probe was legal and that the evidence was collected through a “legitimate investigation of the origin of leaks.”
Mr. Pechenard confirms that domestic intelligence services have been involved, as their mission is to “protect the security of institutions.”
However, Le Monde claims the spying is illegal because it violates a law protecting journalists’ sources – a law proposed by Mr. Sarkozy and enacted in January this year.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sarkozy’s cabinet firmly rejected any connection to the case.
Le Monde quotes intelligence sources who says Mr. Sarkozy was furious at the leak published mid-July and ordered an investigation by the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Interieur (DCRI).
DCRI is a umbrella division of the internal security organization, created two years ago in an attempt to de-politicize the country’s security services.
The leak exposed labor minister Eric Woerth 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 honor.
This investigation is still ongoing and now looking into Mr. Woerth’s alleged conflicts of interest, among other accusations is 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 Roman camps.
Leaked documents published last week by Le Monde describes in detail how the Romans should be targeted “with priority.”
Le Monde has been on a collision course with the center-right government of Mr. Sarkozy ever since the traditional newspaper was taken over this summer by a trio of left-leaning millionaires, the EUobserver writes.
Related by the Econotwist:
- Le Monde sues Sarkozy officials (bbc.co.uk)
- Sarkozy’s Office Sued on Press Freedom Law (nytimes.com)
- Sarkozy’s office accused of ‘spying’ on newspaper (telegraph.co.uk)
- Sarkozy accused of using Watergate-style tricks to muzzle the French press (independent.co.uk)
- Timeline: France’s Bettencourt affair (reuters.com)
- L’Oreal heiress to be questioned in French scandal (reuters.com)