Sarkozy rift gossip blamed on ex-justice minister
THE former French cabinet minister Rachida Dati has had her government security team withdrawn after being blamed for spreading rumours about the state of Nicolas Sarkozy's marriage.
The president is said to believe his former justice minister, whom he ousted from the cabinet, started talk that his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, was having an affair with Benjamin Biolay, a pop singer, while he was seeing his ecology minister, Chantal Jouanno. She has been deprived of her chauffeur-driven limousine and three bodyguards in mysterious circumstances.
Mr Sarkozy has dismissed the affair claims as idiotic "rantings" but is said to be determined to find out who was behind them.
It is understood he took "retaliatory action" against Miss Dati (44) the night his ruling right-wing UMP party suffered a drubbing in the first round of regional elections on March 14.
The president was watching the fallout from his electoral debacle on television when Miss Dati appeared on France 2, the French equivalent of BBC One, and appeared to criticise his strategy.
Mr Sarkozy suddenly saw red and is understood to have picked up the phone instantly and ordered Frederic Pechenard, France's national police chief, to cut off Miss Dati's limousine, provided by the interior ministry, her driver and police bodyguards "within the hour".
Miss Dati learned of the order while still in the television studio. Once outside, she phoned Mr Pechenard and managed to negotiate keeping the Peugeot 607 and the bodyguards for the evening. The next day, however, they were gone.
Miss Dati confirmed yesterday that the car, driver and bodyguards had been removed. However, she said that she did not think Mr Sarkozy had directly given the order.
The culprit was, she said, Brice Hortefeux, the interior minister -- one of her worst enemies and the president's oldest friend. He subsequently called to apologise, she added, but she put the phone down on him.
Mr Sarkozy and his wife have been in Washington for the French leader to hold talks with President Barack Obama.
Miss Dati made history in 2007 when Mr Sarkozy made her the first Muslim woman to hold a top ministerial position. (©Daily Telegraph, London)