Financial Times, Friday January 26 2007
By John Thornhill in Paris
A furious political argument erupted in Paris yesterday after the police intelligence service (RG) confirmed it had opened an investigation into an environmental adviser to Ségolène Royal, the Socialist party's presidential candidate.
The Socialist party demanded that Nicolas Sarkozy, the rival presidential contender from the ruling UMP party, must immediately quit as head of the interior ministry, where he is responsible for the RG and the smooth running of the electoral campaign.
Socialist politicians have already accused the UMP of dirty tricks during the election campaign and said it was a flagrant conflict of interest for Mr Sarkozy to remain interior minister while running as a presidential candidate.
However, Mr Sarkozy denied that he -- or his office -- had ordered the investigation into Bruno Rebelle, the former director of Greenpeace France, and dismissed the Socialists' complaints as "ridiculous". "This is a tempest in a glass of water to try to make people forget the opinion polls," Mr Sarkozy said.
The RG also denied a report in Le Canard Enchainé newspaper saying that its investigation had been ordered by Mr Sarkozy's office. The RG said it had automatically opened a file on Mr Rebelle when he joined Ms Royal's campaign team.
French politicians, from both left and right, have long accused their opponents of abusing the state apparatus while in office and ordering intelligence services to meddle in political affairs.
François Bayrou, leader of the centrist UDF party, said such disputes had been regularly surfacing in French politics for at least 25 years. "Secret services, the abuse of state resources, telephone bugging, the Socialist party and the UMP have used them one after the other," he said. "All this is unworthy of a normal democracy."
The added irony is that one of Ms Royal's brothers was involved in the French secret service operation in 1985 -- under the presidency of the Socialist François Mitterand -- to blow up Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior ship in New Zealand.
Like many other French politicians, Mr Sarkozy wears several political hats. As well as being president of the UMP and interior minister, Mr Sarkozy also runs the department of Hauts-de-Seine, one of France's richest regions.
Mr Sarkozy has hinted that he will quit the interior ministry next month to focus on the presidential race on April 22.
But Le Monde, the influential newspaper, yesterday urged him in an editorial to resign immediately.