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By Thierry Leveque
PARIS (Reuters) - A Paris prosecutor said on Tuesday former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was guilty of conspiring to smear Nicolas Sarkozy before his presidential bid, and urged a court to hand him a suspended 18-month prison term.
In his summary after a month-long trial, prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin also demanded a 45,000-euro (41,187 pound) fine for Villepin, who has denied any wrongdoing and accuses Sarkozy of leading a vendetta against him.
Villepin is accused of trying to have forged documents planted in a judicial corruption investigation with the aim of discrediting Sarkozy as the two manoeuvred to succeed the ageing Jacques Chirac at the 2007 presidential election.
Marin said Villepin, who was foreign minister and then interior minister at the time, had neither instigated nor organised the plot, but was an accomplice by staying silent.
He had "allowed for the manipulation to continue and develop when he had the ability but also the duty to stop it," Marin said.
An eloquent aristocrat who writes poetry in his spare time, Villepin told reporters the prosecutor was wrong.
"Nicolas Sarkozy promised to hang me from a butcher's hook. I see that the promise has been kept," he said, referring to a reported comment from Sarkozy.
Villepin has told the court he was informed of the documents but did not know they were forged.
POLITICAL THRILLER
"His responsibility stands in the light of the office he held and the image he gave of the state's political action and use of power," the prosecutor added. He cited the motive as that of compromising Sarkozy, a civil plaintiff in the trial.
He also called for guilty verdicts against three other defendants in the case, including Jean-Louis Gergorin, a former executive of aerospace group EADS accused of passing the forged documents on to a magistrate.
Worthy of a blockbuster thriller, involving spies, celebrities, shady documents and political rivalry, the case reaches back to 2001 when judges were investigating a sale of French frigates to Taiwan.
The judges were sent documents by an anonymous informant with details of accounts apparently held at Luxembourg-based financial institution Clearstream.
The informant claimed the accounts were linked to a network of corruption with possible ties to organised crime and the frigate deal. But the documents were exposed as forgeries and the focus switched to finding out who was behind them.
Gergorin has said he sent the documents to the judge at the request of Villepin. The prosecutor called for a guilty verdict against computer specialist Imad Lahoud, who is accused of adding names to the list of people who supposedly had accounts at Clearstream, including that of Sarkozy.
The ruling in the so-called Clearstream case is expected to take several months.
(Writing by Sophie Hardach; editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Reuters