Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin goes on trial on Monday for allegedly plotting a smear campaign against President Nicolas Sarkozy in France's most politically-charged case in years.
Dubbed the trial of the decade, the judicial drama features a cast of powerful players in politics, industry and intelligence circles, beginning with Sarkozy, who is a civil plaintiff in the case.
A suave diplomat best remembered for leading the charge against the Iraq war at the United Nations, Villepin is accused of conspiring to slander Sarkozy at a time when the pair were waging a vicious battle to succeed Jacques Chirac as president.
The case dates back to 2004 and centres on a list, later proved to have been fabricated of account holders at the Clearstream financial clearing house who allegedly received kickbacks from the sale of French frigates to Taiwan.
One name on the bogus list was that of Sarkozy, then Chirac's ambitious finance and interior minister, who suspects the president's chosen heir Villepin of using the list to try to torpedo his bid for the presidency.
Villepin, 55, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and maintains that the case would have never gone to trial had it not been for Sarkozy's "meddling" in the judicial process.