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Former PM questioned on Chirac's alleged secret account

world Updated: Feb 06, 2009 18:47 IST

France's former prime minister Dominique de Villepin has been questioned over rumours that former president Jacques Chirac held a secret Japanese bank account, his lawyer said on Friday.

Judge Jean-Francois Redonnet, an investigating magistrate from the French Pacific territory of Tahiti, is probing the 1997 disappearance of a journalist who went missing after asking questions about Chirac's financial affairs.

Chirac has always denied the rumours that he maintained an account in Tokyo during his presidency.

On Thursday, Redonnet interviewed Villepin -- who served as Chirac's prime minister between May 2005 and May 2007 -- as a potential witness, the politician's lawyer Olivier d'Antin told AFP.

"It wasn't a big deal," D'Antin said. "The magistrate gets to talk to anyone he wants, and he wants to talk to a lot of people."

Despite Chirac's denials, the search for freelance reporter Jean-Pascal Couraud has periodically pushed the story back into the public domain.

France's foreign intelligence service, the DGSE, reportedly investigated the rumoured account, but any findings it made were protected as "defence secrets" until last year, when the defence ministry turned them over to the judge.

Couraud has not been seen since December 15, 1997 when he was investigating alleged transfers of large amounts of cash between a firm in French Polynesia and a bank account in Japan.

During the period in question, French Polynesia's regional government was headed by Gaston Flosse, who was known as a close ally of Chirac.

Redonnet has temporarily moved his investigation to Paris, where he is said to want to interview Chirac, as well as other senior figures from the time of the reporter's disappearance.