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French ex-premier questioned in embezzlement probe

Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has been questioned by police in connection with alleged embezzlement at a luxury hotel chain.

French former Prime Minister and right-wing party leader of 'United Republic' (Republique solidaire) Dominique de Villepin

Press conference of Dominique de Villepin

Villepin was taken into custody on Tuesday for questioning about his links with Regis Bulot, who is accused of involvement in fraud.

Bulot was detained in November on charges of money laundering and organized fraud and is suspected of embezzling 1.6 million euros ($2 million) when he was the president of the Relais and Chateaux hotel network. Although Bulot - a friend and political backer of Villepin - was released in June, the investigation is continuing.

Villepin came under suspicion after police phone taps exposed links between him and Bulot, who was president of the chain until 2006.

It is alleged that, in a call made in 2011, Villepin boasted that he had put pressure on the hotel firm's new management not to cooperate with police.

The 58-year-old Socialist politician was implicated just as he was on the verge of entering the race for the French presidency. He eventually abandoned his candidature.

Villepin was prime minister under President Jacques Chirac from May 2005 until May 2007. He is best-known on the international stage for voicing French opposition to the Iraq war at the United Nations.

An appeals court cleared him last year of charges that he took part in a smear campaign against former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

rc/mz (AFP, dpa, Reuters)