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Police question former French prime minister about alleged fraud scheme

By Dheepthi Namasivayam, CNN
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Tue September 11, 2012
France's former prime minister Dominique de Villepin addresses journalists at the Paris courthouse on September 14, 2011.
France's former prime minister Dominique de Villepin addresses journalists at the Paris courthouse on September 14, 2011.
  • Dominique de Villepin linked to alleged scheme by a French luxury restaurant and hotel chain
  • Phone taps from 2010 show that he allegedly covered up scandal, intimidated management staff
  • Authorities say they want to know if de Villepin profited from kickbacks for political campaigns

(CNN) -- Police questioned former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on Tuesday in Paris about his involvement in an alleged 1.6 million euro embezzlement scheme by a French luxury restaurant and hotel chain, French authorities told CNN.

De Villepin's close friend Regis Bulot, who was president of the Relais & Chateaux club until 2006, admitted to police last November that he received kickbacks from the sales of their guidebooks. He was provisionally detained on charges of "fraud in an organized gang and abuse of trust" and released in June.

De Villepin became embroiled in the scandal after police phone taps from 2010 revealed that he allegedly covered up the scandal and intimidated the new management staff at Relais & Chateaux into keeping quiet about the kickbacks.

Authorities are interrogating de Villepin to find out if he profited from the kickbacks for his political campaigns or if the money was sent to Swiss bank accounts.

De Villepin, a presidential hopeful for the 2012 elections, was foreign minister and prime minister in President Jacques Chirac's government. He famously delivered a speech at the United Nations opposing the war in Iraq.

He is no stranger to controversies, having already been accused of engineering the distribution of a fake list of secret bank accounts in the Clearstream affair, which also implicated former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Clearstream is a bank clearinghouse based in Luxembourg. The list appeared to link several French politicians, including Sarkozy, to kickbacks in 1991.

Journalist Sybile Penhirin contributed to this report.

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