Monday, October 20, 2008

Bertrand’s diaries enmesh Sarkozy

Diaries written by a former head of the French intelligence agency, Yves Bertrand, are at the centre of scandalous allegations about President Nicolas Sarkozy. The story is particularly spicy since it was Sarkozy’s own moves against Bertrand that must have led to the diaries being seized by the police, and subsequently being leaked to the press.

On 9 October, the French political magazine, Le Point (a sort of French Time or Newsweek) published an article titled ‘The Black Books of the Republic’. It revealed, from notebooks or diaries kept by Bertrand between 1998 and 2003, a series of allegations about figures at the very top of France’s political establishment. For 12 years, until 2004, Bertrand was the head of Renseignements Généraux (RG), the intelligence service of the French police.

The Le Point revelations were widely taken up by other media, many of them focusing on the accusation that Sarkozy, while serving as interior minister, had had an affair with the wife of one of his current cabinet colleagues. However, according to Le Point, Bertrand’s diaries seem to confirm that once Sarkozy had taken over the Gaullist movement and was bidding for the Presidency, RG worked for President Jacques Chirac to undermine him. Other allegations concern former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who said he had tried to sack Bertrand (earlier than 2004) but had been prevented from doing so by Chirac.

The diaries, according to a report in The Times, are said to be ‘packed with other potentially explosive accounts of drug-taking, illicit sex, blackmail and corruption among French leaders’. Le Point said: ‘These notebooks are a terrifying journey under the skirts of the Republic,’ and added, ‘one could laugh if this exercise in underhand police work had not sometimes broken careers, thwarted democracy and sometimes destroyed lives.’

Ironically, Sarkozy himself seems to have opened up this particularly colourful show. He had Bertrand removed from RG in 2004, and then he acted against RG itself, which was finally closed down last July. Subsequently, French magistrates seized Bertrand’s diaries. I’m not sure as to why the action was taken, but most reports say it was as a direct result of allegations by Sarkozy against RG, but others say it was connected with a much wider investigation into long-term political and financial shenanigans, generally known as the Clearstream Affair (see Wikipedia for a long and detailed account of how wide and deep corruption in France seems to go).

However, it does appear that the leaking of Bertrand’s diaries to the press must have been connected in some way to their seizure by the police. Bertrand himself has said the notebooks were private and not meant to be made public or even taken as fact. He told Le Point that he had kept them for his own use, and that, although he did not write much about private lives, if he did so, it was ‘to protect members of the government’.

Following on from Le Point’s revelations, Sarkozy decided to sue Bertrand. The BBC says he is taking ‘legal action for libel and invasion of privacy’. (However, the BBC also says ‘Mr Bertrand’s agency reports to the government . . .’ - the use of the present tense implies the BBC thinks both Bertrand and his agency are still in place!) Sky News reports that the complaint has been filed with the Paris prosecutor and accuses ‘Yves Bertrand and others of invasion of privacy, malicious accusation, forgery and use of forgery and concealment’.

In a new twist this morning, various news organisations (such as The Straights Times) are running a story sourced from Agence France-Presse, in which Bertrand is quoted as saying Sarkozy’s lawsuit ‘does not stand up’. He says he is ‘the victim in this affair’ and that his notebooks were ‘stolen’. They were under ‘the protection of the justice system’, he claims, but they’ve ‘ended up in the public arena’. And a jolly good show they’re making!

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