Sarkozy bid to quash rumours on marriage gives gossip new life
PRESIDENT Sarkozy's attempts to quash rumours about problems in his marriage have backfired after his advisers spoke out about an international plot, blamed a glamorous former minister, and ordered the state security service to investigate.
This week's counter-offensive by the Elysee Palace has given new life to gossip that had been widely discounted and ignored by the French media. It has also prompted worry from MPs in the president's camp that he is stooping to tactics that should be beneath him.
His orders to the DCRI, the equivalent of MI5, to track down the source of the gossip has stirred memories of the late President Mitterrand's secret police operation to keep the media away from his complicated private life throughout the 1980s.
The DCRI confirmed yesterday that it had been called in to trace the origin of the tale, which began circulating on the internet in February, that Mr Sarkozy and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, his wife, were involved in liaisons with well-known colleagues. Rachida Dati, the former Justice Minister and one-time protegee of Mr Sarkozy, denied that she had spread the tale.
"Rumours, calumny and gossip about private life are absolutely inadmissible and scandalous," Ms Dati said on breakfast radio. "It is just as scandalous that I have been directly implicated."
Over the past week Ms Dati, who fell from favour and was dismissed last June, has been accused by Mr Sarkozy's senior advisers of playing a part in a plot to smear the president.
Pierre Charon, an aide and friend of the president, said that the Elysee Palace had proof of her involvement. Ms Dati threatened libel action.
Mr Charon and Thierry Herzog, Mr Sarkozy's lawyer, have said they suspect that British, German or other foreign interests are behind a plot to "destabilise" the president as he prepares to take over the chairmanship of the G8 and G20 next year. Such an atmosphere of intrigue and the sense that the government was overreacting caused concern amid Mr Sarkozy's allies.
Luc Chatel, the education minister and government spokesman, accused Mr Charon of speaking out of turn. Yves Censi, an MP for Mr Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement, said: "The French have other worries, other concerns."
The prevailing mood was that the president had brought trouble upon himself by making a spectacle of his private life in a way that French leaders had never done. (©The Times, London)